If a bus were hurtling towards a child in the middle of the road, no one nearby would take merely one step to get that child out of the way. They would rush, at speeds previously unbeknownst to them, using every muscle in their body, to get that child to safety.
On the climate crisis, a bus is careering toward us and we have still not flexed all our muscle power to get ourselves or future generations to safety.
Emissions continue to rise. The loss and damage is devastating. Trust has been breached. The resulting frustration, anger and incredulity at the pace of progress is warranted. As activists of all stripes remind us constantly, we need systems change, not climate change. And they are absolutely right.
At the same time we should understand our double predicament. First, we are actually in the midst of a systems change, and it is precisely the systemic nature of the change that slows the pace for now – until we hit positive tipping points. If we only had to transform one sector, or move one country off fossil fuels, we would have done so long ago. But that is not what it takes. All sectors of the global economy have to be decarbonised, even the hard-to-abate ones, and all countries must switch to clean technologies, especially those that have depended on exporting or importing fossil fuels for decades. It is a deliberate metamorphosis that is more complex and far reaching than any transformation we have ever attempted.
Second, just as the transition gathers pace moving from gradual to exponential, the window within which we need to achieve it constantly shrinks. The speed of change foreseen in Paris in 2015 has been superseded by improved scientific understanding and the shocking escalation of impacts being felt by the most vulnerable. We now know that we must halve global emissions no later than 2030. It is as though the bus suddenly accelerated as we were approaching the child.
And yet none of the above can keep us from doing what needs to be done – the consequences are simply too dire.
Through the process of rewilding, cities can improve both human and environmental health.
The idea of grizzly bears prowling sidewalks in Chicago may not appeal to the average citizen (or indeed the animals themselves). However, recent years have seen numerous projects seeking to use aspects of rewilding to help nature claw back some of the urban environment.
The concept of rewilding emerged in the early ’90s, and has since led to the reintroduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park and wood bison to the boreal forests of Alaska. The original idea, according to conservation organization The Rewilding Institute, was to reintroduce “apex predators and highly interactive species” to large wilderness areas to restore natural ecosystem balances. The benefits of reintroducing these keystone species include stabilizing populations of other species and reducing overgrazing of native vegetation.
But of course our cities were once wilderness too.
In the U.K., conservation charity Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust is hoping to make Nottingham the country’s first “rewilded city,” starting by transforming what was a massive concrete shopping mall built in the 1960s, Broadmarsh, into a haven for wildlife.
“There’s a lot of talk about sustainable cities—clean energy, carbon reduction, sustainable transport,” says Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s Broadmarsh campaign leader Erin McDaid, “but the missing link in these plans is green space itself. To have proper green recovery you have to have restoration of the natural environment.”
The Champs-Élysées committee has been campaigning for a major redesign of the avenue and its surroundings since 2018.
“The legendary avenue has lost its splendour during the last 30 years. It has been progressively abandoned by Parisians and has been hit by several successive crises: the gilets jaunes, strikes, health and economic,” the committee said in a statement welcoming Hidalgo’s announcement.
“It’s often called the world’s most beautiful avenue, but those of us who work here every day are not at all sure about that,” Jean-Noël Reinhardt, the committee president said in 2019.
“The Champs-Élysées has more and more visitors and big-name businesses battle to be on it, but to French people it’s looking worn out.”
The committee held a public consultation over what should be done with the avenue. The plans include reducing space for vehicles by half, turning roads into pedestrian and green areas, and creating tunnels of trees to improve air quality.
Read the article by Kim Willsher at The Guardian:
The small Himalayan country of Bhutan, mainly known for measuring national happiness instead of GDP, is the only carbon-negative country on the planet. Believe it or not, it has only had one single death from COVID-19. Is that a coincidence?
Madeline Drexler’s new article in the Atlantic, “The Unlikeliest Pandemic Success Story,” dives into the reasons that Bhutan has managed to fare so well against the novel coronavirus while rich countries and middle-income have struggled to keep it in check. The tiny developing country, landlocked between India and Tibet, wasn’t exactly set up for success. It began 2020 with exactly one PCR machine to test for the virus, according to Drexler’s reporting, and one doctor with advanced training in critical care.
Read the article by Kate Yoder on Feb 12, 2021 at Grist:
There’s been so much loss, grief and heartbreak in 2020 that it feels almost wrong to be compiling our traditional annual list of good news. Things can and do fall apart, and this year it felt like they really did. Amazing as it may seem however, there were also big wins for conservation, living standards, peace, safety and human rights, clean energy, and yes, even global health. The reason you didn’t hear about them is because good news doesn’t sell advertisements or generate clicks, and that was more true in 2020 than ever before.
16. Attitudes in China towards the eating of wild animals changed drastically in 2020. Up to 90% of the public now supports strict bans on the trade and consumption of wildlife, and more than 15,000 people were prosecuted for wildlife crimes this year, a 66% increase from 2019. China also removed dogs from the list of animals that can be treated as livestock, signalling the beginning of the end of the sale of live dogs for food and fur across the country.
35. The WHO revealed that malaria deaths have reached the lowest level ever recorded, a drop of almost 60% in the last two decades. Take a moment to let this sink in: between 2000 and 2019, 1.5 billion malaria cases and 7.6 million malaria deaths were averted globally.
Peace, Safety & Human Rights
44. A new report by the Global Peace Index showed that since 2007, the majority of the world’s countries – 113 countries – have reduced their armed forces, 100 have reduced military expenditure and both imports and exports of weapons have reached their lowest levels since 2009.
74. The IEA’s annual report contained a hidden nugget of very, very good news this year. The number of people without access to electricity dropped from 860 million to 770 million, a new record low. Africa has made particularly good progress; the number of people gaining access to electricity doubled from 9 million a year in 2013, to 20 million a year by 2019.
82. 2020 saw an unprecedented acceleration in national climate pledges. South Korea became the first Asian country to set a 2050 net zero emissions goal, followed by Japan, and then most importantly, China, which committed to net zero by 2060 – perhaps the single most important development in climate policy since the Paris Agreement.
Read the article at Future Crunch:
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For the last 12 months, the global media has been focused on a lot of bad news. But there were other things happening out there too: conservation successes, huge wins for global health, more peace and tolerance, less war and violence, rising living standards, some big clean energy milestones, and a quiet turning of the tide in the fight against plastic. Stories of human progress, that didn’t make it into the evening broadcasts, or onto your social media feeds.