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

About 2016

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2016: dark, stormy and...snowy?  Some fuzzy recollections.

2016: dark, stormy and…snowy? Some fuzzy recollections.

Ask around, and it’s pretty much a consensus that 2016 was not a good year, globally.  The results of the US elections have convinced many that it’s too late – any social or environmental progress we may have accomplished will be undone.

And yet, there has been a remarkable spate of good news in 2016.  Yes, the climate got worse, but the speed at which renewables are overtaking fossil fuels has been a welcome surprise.   Here’s my take on what I’ll call a memorable year to forget.

The climate? 2016 was hot.  This was the third year in a row to set global records   were set, the hottest July, the hottest August, the warmest November – the hottest year ever measured.

It may seem strange to talk about warming when Vancouver has been snowed-in for over a month, white Christmas and all.  But this cold spell, ironically, may be connected to the unprecedented warming in the Arctic, where November temperatures were a good 15 degrees about normal.  The Antarctic is also behaving funny: upwelling in the Antarctic ocean may have weakened significantly.  If true, this has important climate implications, as well as biological ones: ocean upwelling fertilizes the upper layers of the ocean with nutrients, which is what supports the food chain from krill to whales.

Now for the positive partAngus Harvey writes a column that compiles positive news, and his year-end summary is definitely upbeat.  On the conservation side, he notes nine items where meaningful action has been taken to protect natural zones such as Lake Titicaca, the Colorado River, over 40 marine sancturaies throughout the world, and of course the Great Bear Rainforest agreement.  Carbon emissions did not grow at all last year, and the ozone hole is on the mend.  The remarkable growth in renewables and the drop in coal use is documented in 17 separate items.  Several animal species have recovered enough to be lose their endangered status, including the panda, the humpback whale, and the manatee.  Health is improving locally, there have been fewer wars and less crime.  A list of 99 items to bring back hope, well worth a read.

Peyton Fleming of Ecowatch gives ten reasons to be optimistic about a low-carbon future.  Among the news that did not make it to the mainstream media pages are these two from Africa: the hugely successful  pay-as-you-go M-Kopa Solar has installed nearly half a million household solar systems in East Africa, and Morocco has phased out fossil fuel subsidies and has started construction of the world’s largest solar concentrating array.

The Canadian chapter of World Wildlife Fund chimed in with seventeen reasons to be optimistic, noting in particular new initiatives of the Canadian government to protect wildlife, as well as including the importance of metrics with the unlikely title “accountants will save the planet” – you’ll have to read!

Climate Central added its ten most important news of the year, which include these two under-reported items: hydrofluorocarbons are on the way out, and the airlines have agreed on a deal to cut carbon.

And in the most recent news, China announced it will be spending $360 billion on renewables through 2020, and the International Energy Agency has now raised its outlook for record growth in renewables.

There was a lot of good reading stuff last year, too.  There’s been a lot written about climate change; Rob Moore of NRDC listed his favourites of 2016, including fiction (there are now enough novels and short stories about climate change to earn its own genre moniker: cli-fi).  The list includes Drowned Worlds,  Jonathan Strahan editor.  Writes Moore:

This collection of climate fiction (or cli-fi) stories is a fascinating and disturbing collection set in a future that’s been altered by climate change. Why is fiction an important outlet for getting people to understand climate change? It turns out that people who read fiction are more empathetic to the plight of others, so readers of cli-fi may very well be more supportive of actions to combat climate change and deal with its impacts. And they’re very entertaining stories.

This may be a bit of a rebuttal to Amitav Ghosh’s brilliant essay in the Guardian, “where is the fiction about climate change?”  Ghosh produced his own, reviewed here.  Speaking of the Guardian, the newspaper published an amazing series on cities; the 52-part opus is a must for anyone interested in urbanism and change.

One non-fiction book that didn’t make lists but deserves a much wider audience (I’ll be reviewing it soon) is Energy Democracy by Craig Morris and Arne Jungjohann.  A book full of hope for the rest of us, it tells the story of the grassroots struggles and political breakthroughs that resulted in Germany becoming the leader in renewable energy policy.

But one sad news: environmental columnist Mark Hume will no longer write for the Globe & Mail; here is his farewell column.  But he can be followed on his blog here.

If you prefer to get your news visually, Paul Beckwith has compiled his own selection of important videos about the climate.

New Year’s resolution ideas?  Blythe Copeland, writing in Mother Nature News, has a few: bring your own bags, brew your own fair-trade coffee, and stop buying bottled water, among others.  But maybe I prefer one of Woody Guthrie’s new year’s resolutions, for 1942, in the middle of World War 2, but just as relevant now: “Keep hoping machine going”.  Yup, keep that hope machine purring smoothly.

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Written by enviropaul

January 6, 2017 at 1:47 pm

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