Soaring temperatures, unusually hot oceans, devastating wildfires, catastrophic floods, and the heartbreaking tales of communities impacted. We are more than halfway through 2023, and lately, it’s been challenging to find much positive climate news in the headlines. As we reach both record high levels of carbon pollution in the atmosphere and record low levels of Antarctica ice, it could seem as if we have reached some climate tipping point, making it hard to stay optimistic. Yet, there is still hope.
Marcy Franck, author of the Climate Optimist newsletter from the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, sheds some light on the topic. (Hostetter, 2023)
“It’s a lot easier to stay positive and motivated when you’re informed about how far we’ve already come,” says Franck. “The world has begun transitioning entire economies off of fossil fuels—changing the way we generate energy, transport people and things, build buildings, and grow food.” And doing these things, says Franck, will not only avert the worst outcomes, but also create a healthier, more equitable future. (Hostetter, 2023)
Franck’s hopefulness is not grounded in naivety nor ignoring these current climate struggles instead, “climate optimism” is:
“Understanding that we know how to prevent things from getting worse, and we are making progress,” says Franck. “Our challenge is to ‘yes, and’ the heck out of otherwise conflicting thoughts: We are in a major crisis, and we are making progress; catastrophes are upending life, and our solutions are working; we are running out of time, and it’s not too late.” (Hostetter, 2023)
Franck reminds us that taking a deep breath is essential to gain perspective and recognize that “it’s not too late.” We have the knowledge, tools, and initiative to stop the planet from warming to the point of no return. (Hostetter, 2023) In that spirit, let us share some of the favorable climate stories of 2023 with our audience.
Brazilian Amazon Deforestation Drops 34 percent under President Lula
Regional studies in the Brazilian Amazon have demonstrated some of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world. There are an estimated one to two million animal species in the Amazon, including howler monkeys, freshwater dolphins, and scarlet macaws, while providing habitat for 30,000 endemic plants and containing close to 123 billion tons of carbon dioxide above and below ground.
Brazil’s President Lula da Silva (Lula) plans to eliminate deforestation in the Amazon rainforest by 2030, using satellite imagery and stricter law enforcement to track criminal activity. (Paraguassu, 2023) Thus far, deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon dropped by a third during the first six months of President Lula’s term, according to government satellite data. (NOAA, 2023) From January to June, the rainforest had alerts for possible deforestation, covering 2,650 square kilometers, down from 4,000 sq km during the same period last year under former leader Jair Bolsonaro. This year’s data includes a 41 percent plunge in alerts for June, which marks the start of the dry season when deforestation tends to jump. (Wood, 2023)
Montana Judge Sides with Youth
On August 14, in Helena, Montana, District Court Judge Kathy Seeley sided with young environmental activists who said state agencies violated their constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment by permitting fossil fuel development without considering its effect on the climate. The ruling is a first-of-its-kind trial in the United States. It adds to a few legal decisions worldwide that have established a government duty to protect citizens from climate change. Judge Seeley found the state’s policy in evaluating requests for fossil fuel permits, which does not allow agencies to assess the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, unconstitutional. (NPR), 2023)
Judge Seeley wrote in the ruling that:
“Montana’s emissions and climate change have been proven to be a substantial factor in causing climate impacts to Montana’s environment and harm and injury” to the youth. However, it’s up to the state Legislature to determine how to bring the policy into compliance. That leaves slim chances for immediate change in a fossil fuel-friendly state where Republicans dominate the statehouse. (NPR, 2023)
Julia Olson, an attorney representing the youth, released a statement calling the ruling a “huge win for Montana, for youth, for democracy, and for our climate.” (NPR, 2023)
European Union Country Emissions Fell by 4% and Economies Grew
A big chunk of global emissions has come from Europe. The region is developed and has a long history of fossil fuel consumption. But it’s currently undertaking wide-reaching energy policies reducing Europe’s carbon footprint via renewables targets, continuation of its emissions trading scheme, and national decarbonization plans. (Roberts, 2013)
These efforts are showing progress. According to Eurostat data released this past May, greenhouse gas emissions in the E.U. fell by 4% in the last three months of 2022. Out of the 27 member states, emissions decreased in 23 E.U. countries. (Green, 2023) It also found that while emissions had fallen, GDP had increased by 1.5 percent during those three months. This demonstrates that countries are reducing their greenhouse gas contribution while growing their economies.
Protecting the Great Barrier Reef, The World’s Most Extensive Coral Reef Ecosystem
The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s most extensive coral reef system, composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 1,400 miles over an area of approximately 133,000 square miles. The reef is in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland, Australia, separated from the shore by a channel 100 miles wide in places and over 200 feet deep. The Great Barrier Reef can be seen from outer space and is the world’s most prominent single structure made by living organisms. This reef structure is composed of and built by billions of tiny organisms known as coral polyps. It supports diverse life and is a World Heritage Site in 1981. CNN labeled it one of the “Seven Natural Wonders of the World” in 1997. Australian World Heritage places included it in its list in 2007. (Wikipedia, n.d.)
This past February, Australia has blocked a proposal for a new coal mine near the Great Barrier Reef just off the coast of central Queensland. The news comes after public outcry over potential risks to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed reef. (Elton, 2023) Furthermore, the Australian and Queensland state governments are phasing out destructive gill net fishing in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef. (Federation, 2023) Commercial gill net fishing kills indiscriminately, catching targeted fish but also ensnaring other sea creatures, including dolphins, hammerheads, and other threatened shark species, according to the World Wildlife Fund. (Federation, 2023)
This phase-out is part of a U.S. $110 million protection package agreed by these governments. The package will provide funds to buy out existing gill net fishing licenses, with a complete ban coming into force by 2027. It will also enforce independent data validation for commercial fishing boat operations, and hammerhead sharks will receive “no-take” protected status. (Federation, 2023)
“This announcement is shaping up as a globally significant moment for ocean conservation, fisheries management, and the Great Barrier Reef – one of the world’s natural wonders,” said Dermot O’Gorman, CEO of WWF-Australia, “If all goes to plan, by June 2027, we’ll have a ‘Net-Free Reef’ where dugongs, turtles, dolphins, and other threatened species can swim without the threat of becoming entangled and drowning in a gill net, and that’s a cause for global celebration.” (Federation, 2023)
Transitioning to a Clean Energy Future
The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), signed into U.S. law on August 16, 2022, directs federal spending toward reducing carbon emissions, lowering health care costs, funding the Internal Revenue Service, and improving taxpayer compliance. (Badlam, 2022) The IRA projects to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030, making the United States well-positioned to meet its climate goals while investing in the American economy. This transition to a green economy can save families an average of $1,000 annually in energy costs. (Morelle, 2022)
After its first year, the IRA has substantially impacted our nation’s move to a renewable power grid. The Act has generated over $270 billion in private investments for utility-scale clean power, created more than 170,000 jobs in 44 states, and dropped the cost of wind energy by 54% and solar energy by 37%. Its success can bring the U.S. back to a strong leadership position in the global fight against climate change. (Morelle, 2022) (Fund, 2022)
According to the World Wildlife Federation, “With more frequent and extreme weather events, melting glaciers, and rising sea levels, there is no question that the climate crisis is here now, and the impacts are felt by humans and nature alike. But there is good news: Every day, we see more individuals, organizations, businesses, and governments responding to the crisis. People are coming together to take concrete steps to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change.” (WWF, n.d.)
By working together, we can make a difference. Environment Next is committed to supporting climate action via working with non-profits, businesses, governments, and research institutions around the globe to help prepare us for and adapt to climate change. We are greatly optimistic about the future and look forward to sharing additional positive stories of the climate and environmental progress with our readers.
By Jarett Emert