Cher Gilmore: Hope for the planet on Earth Day

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Given the relentless attacks from Washington on climate science and environmental protections, and the fossil fuel fans running federal agencies dealing with environmental issues, hope for the planet may seem in short supply these days.

However, amidst the bad news making the headlines, there are actually many positive developments to celebrate on Earth Day this year.

Yes, there’s still plenty of work to do to keep our fat out of the fire, so to speak, but let’s look at how much movement there is in the right direction.

Other countries are stepping up
Although China is maligned for its pollution, it became the world leader in solar power capacity in 2016, doubling its solar photovoltaic capacity and installing nearly 1.5 times the amount the U.S. has installed in its entire history.

It also installed almost three times as much wind power as the U.S. Overall, China invested almost $88 billion into renewables in 2016 – one-third more than the U.S.

Further cementing its commitment to renewables, it recently canceled 103 coal-fired power plants that were either planned or under construction – after canceling 60 others in 2016.

Following China’s playbook, in the last few years India has installed nearly as much solar capacity as the three top U.S. states combined – California, New Jersey and Massachusetts. It also has the world’s fourth-largest wind power capacity and has in turn canceled four coal power plants.

Latin America is not far behind. Three of the top five developing countries for clean energy are Chile, Brazil, and Uruguay.

In fact, clean energy investments in emerging nations in South America, as well as the Middle East and Africa, surpassed those in wealthier countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for the first time last year.

Morocco phased out fossil fuel subsidies and is building the world’s largest concentrated solar plant. Ireland voted to divest its sovereign wealth fund from fossil fuels.

Canada will establish a nationwide price on carbon by 2018. In response to U.S. waffling, numerous countries have re-committed to the emissions reduction pledges they made in the 2015 Paris Agreement, including China, the EU, Australia, India, Indonesia, and Brazil.

Beyond the Paris Agreement, world nations agreed last October to cap and reduce hydrofluorocarbons, a greenhouse gas a thousand times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Renewables are expanding rapidly
Solar jobs in the U.S. increased by 25 percent in 2016; wind jobs by 32 percent. Solar photovoltaic panels were the largest source of new U.S. electric capacity last year, and the costs of wind and solar power continue to plummet.

In some places, they are below or equal to the cost of fossil fuels – even without subsidies. The cost of battery packs for electric cars or backup storage has declined by 50 percent or more.

In Africa, pay-as-you-go solar companies are booming. M-Kopa Solar, for example, has sold more than 425,000 household solar systems, where customers use their cell phones to make a $30 deposit and daily 50-cent payments.

In exchange, they get a solar panel, a pair of lights, a cell phone charger, and a solar-powered radio. After a year of payments, they own the system outright.

Fortune 500 companies are now jumping on the renewables bandwagon, too, at extraordinary levels. Walmart, Apple, Google, and Mars, for example, now power all their stateside operations with 100 percent renewable energy; Google plans to hit its 100 percent goal globally this year.

Banks, too, are seeing exponential growth in lending and finance for low-carbon and other sustainable business activity, including Citigroup at $48 billion in 2015 alone.

Deutsche Bank is providing billions of dollars in loans for clean energy businesses in sub-Saharan Africa.

Hope in the states and Congress
American voters support climate action by wide margins, and states (including California and New York), in the absence of leadership in Washington, have responded by forming a coalition with foreign governments to pursue climate goals.

This powerful coalition represents a billion people and a third of the global economy.

Glimmers of hope in Congress include a new Republican resolution calling for congressional action on climate change and the rapidly-growing bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus in the House.

The Caucus now has 36 members, half Republican and half Democrat, and is actively looking for solutions to our climate crisis.

Space permits only a sampling of the good news, but the bottom line is that there are many forces at work in the world counteracting the negative actions of the individual sitting in the White House.

 

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