All things environmental

Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

2014 in review V: Politics and people

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The climate march in New York

The climate march in New York

I mentioned in earlier posts in this series that 2014 provided many reasons for feeling good about the future. Developments in clean tech are one reason, of course, but what happened at the political level is what has been most heartening – particularly at the grassroots level.

Starting with regulations: following Quebec and Vermont, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and New York – even a town in Texas! – all announced bans on fracking. Washington State drafted a carbon pricing and trading initiative hailed as “possibly the most progressive carbon-regulation system in the world”. This came on the heels of a report from Australia that showed that the carbon tax (now repealed, unfortunately) was remarkably effective at reducing carbon emissions. Meanwhile, the surprise accord between China and the US shocked everyone – and a similar accord involving India may be in the works; and, just as shockingly, big business pronounced in favour of the EPA carbon legislation.

In Canada, while it may have been business as usual among politicians, things were developing at the grassroots level. The new empowerment of First Nations means that the recent approvals of the Site C dam, or the Northern Gateway pipeline, for instance, are nowhere near a done deal, as would have been the case in the past. The news of the year in Burnaby was not the Kinder Morgan pipeline, but rather the opposition against it from the city and the public as a whole. And in an inspiring story, a lone citizen succeeded in doing what the BC government wouldn’t, bringing a corporation to court for polluting a creek with a fuel spill.

But of course, 2014 was a year of rabble-rousing everywhere. The grassroots movements grew in numbers and in organization in the US, culminating in the largest march ever; this was a huge reason to celebrate, even if it didn’t translate into gains in Congress. The Guardian featured an excellent review of the great sustainability campaigns of the year: aside from the already-mentioned march, the paper highlighted the Lego campaign of Greenpeace, the WWF focus on saving Virunga, the Bee campaign, and divestment. Grist reviewed the “rabble-rousing” milestones, month by month, and it makes for great reading considering the ground covered: from the Keystone protests (including a court finding in favour of farmer Randy Thompson against the pipeline), the marches against coal terminals in the western states, the Washington and New York marches, and then – Ferguson. With respect to this issue, Greg Hanscom penned a great piece tying the social justice protests to the need for green cities. There were a great number of inspiring videos this year chronicling these events (the New York march, the Healing Walk, as well as a wonderful Swedish initiative called Divesteria). PlanetExperts chimed in with the “ten uplifting environmental stories” of the year.

What does it all mean? Are things really changing? That, at least, is the opinion of writer Rebecca Solnit, who says we are at turning point in history. Hers is a wonderful, thoughtful and inspiring piece of analysis best saved for last and worth savouring, tying the great New York march to apparently small events, such as the people of Richmond, California, defeating the efforts of Chevron and electing a truly representative council at City Hall – a feat no one considered possible. Or in a lighter vein, but just as effective, you may enjoy Franke James’ visual wit.

Franke James' Social Flag (from her recent show in Victoria last October)

Franke James’ Social Flag (from her recent show in Victoria last October)

There may be setbacks in 2015, for sure. But the momentum is too large, and the need is too big: there will be change for the better. Cheers!

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