Let’s face it: 2018 sucked. Every day felt like a never-ending nightmare full of depressing reminders of how the world is going to end and how it’s all our fault. I get it, believe me. This is my world 24/7.
However! Positive things—miraculous things even!—did happen this year. So before we pop our champagne and wish for a year of fewer environmental failures and heartbreaking studies, hold onto the strides we made this year. They’re worth remembering, even if just to lift your sorry, drunken spirits.
As one of his first major actions as president, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to advance construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which former President Barack Obama vetoed in 2015. But last month, a U.S. district court judge vacated Trump’s presidential permit. The analysis the State Department conducted to grant the 1,179-mile long crude oil pipeline didn’t get into impacts the pipeline would have on climate change, so District Court Judge Brian Morris instructed the federal government to get on that.
This was great news: Pipeline opponents, including indigenous environmental activists in the Midwest, have been fighting the energy project for 10 years now.
Trump has been trying really hard to take the world back to the dark ages of dirty energy, but that hasn’t resulted in the death of renewables. This year set a record in the U.S. for corporate renewable energy procurements thanks to companies like Apple and Facebook investing in clean energy. In the European Union, renewables finally soared past coal as a source of electricity generation. China’s on it, too. Solar and wind ain’t going nowhere, Trump.
This was probably the most satisfying news event to watch all year. Every day, the question loomed: What will it take for the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to resign? Pruitt didn’t just deny climate change and repeal key environmental legislation, you see: He liked to spend exorbitant amounts of taxpayer money on his personal travel and around-the-clock security. Finally, after the scandals grew too scandalous, he peaced out in July. Toodles!
Thank the stars for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She’s not even a sitting Congressperson yet, and she’s been campaigning tirelessly for a Green New Deal that would rapidly phase down U.S. dependence on fossil fuels. Specifically, she wants House Democrats to launch a committee to craft legislation around the idea. She joined protesters at a sit-in at Nacy Pelosi’s office in November, and she’s only getting started. With growing support for an environmental revolution in the new Congress, her efforts may have a shot.
This is not a drill: The United Nations announced this year that the ozone hole could heal in our lifetimes. This felt impossible when the world first became aware of the problem in the 1980s, but it goes to show what strong environmental policy can do. Good job, world.
Our world is full of beautiful and incredible natural places. And a lot of them remain unprotected, at risk of logging or poaching or whatever awful things people want to do. Luckily, both Peru and Chile stepped their game up this year by creating new national parks. They’re no little parks, either: Chile’s stretch over a million acres, and Peru’s covers more than two million. Hell yeah to protecting forests.
Latin America is notorious as a dangerous place to be an outspoken steward of the planet. In fact, it’s downright deadly. This year, however, 12 Latin American countries came together to sign a landmark treaty to offer better protections for environmental defenders. This humans rights agreement seeks to give local people have a louder voice when it comes to development projects and recognizes the real threats they face when they decide to speak up.
The Pacific Islands have the most to lose in the face of a changing climate, rising sea levels, and warming world. That’s why Palau moved to ban sunscreens containing chemicals like oxybenzone, octocrylene, and parabens that harm coral in November. And Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has called upon the rest of the world to get its shit together to avoid a worst-case scenario of the future. The president of the Marshall Islands even chaired the world’s first virtual climate summit this year to avoid the conference air travel that results in a ton of greenhouse gas emissions. Talk about being the change.
Look, I’m no weather nerd, yet even I can get excited about what a new weather satellite means. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration launched GOES-17 back in March, and this bad boy has already brought us marvelous images like these. More importantly, this satellite will help meteorologists better predict the weather, which ultimately saves lives in times of extreme events like hurricanes.
Even I have to admit when Trump does something that isn’t environmentally detrimental. There were two moments that stood out: When the president signed the Save Our Seas Act in October to help clean up marine garbage, and when the EPA announced in November a proposal to better regulate emissions from heavy-duty trucks. Neither of these balance out the rest of the destruction this guy’s caused and is planning (for instance, opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling) but gotta’ give credit where it’s due.
Here’s hoping that 2019 brings less devastation to our world and more wins like these.