Weather-wise, 2016 started out crazy, though at the time we didn’t know the year would end crazy, and that craziness would affect future climate decisions. Although election coverage drew much of the attention away from issues about environmental impact, there was still a lot that happened in 2016.
One takeaway that also hasn’t gotten a lot of attention is that though Donald Trump, a candidate not known for his concern for environmental issues, was elected, ballot issues concerning land and water conservation adoptions won by huge margins. Over $4.4 billion worth of new policies are being enacted that benefit natural resources. There are other climate issues from 2016 that have changed the future for environmental policies.
Climate Issues of 2016
The past year had ups and downs for those who care about the earth. Here are the highlights of environmental issues of the last year.
January took scientists by storm – so to speak. Though 2015 was the hottest year on record, by the start of the new year, the greatest departure from the average of any month on record happened in January, according to NASA’s numbers. This departure affected the Arctic the most notably, where global warming is known to be particularly intense. Such information makes it clear that, though it might be cold, global warming is affecting the earth.
Climate scientists are still researching January 2016, and they will be keeping an eye on what January 2017 will look like in the Arctic.
The Paris Agreement
As the biggest global challenge we face, it makes sense we face global climate change together. The Paris Agreement represents a turning point for how the world handles climate change. Though it was years in the making, the Paris Agreement paves the way for a low-carbon economy fueled by innovations in tech, finance and energy.
For the first time since scientists have begun to understand climate change, 196 nations have come together and agreed on strategies for a more hopeful future. Despite what might have been a disappointing election for the environment, the Paris Agreement offers hope that the world is set to change for the better and can hopefully apply some pressure to the U.S. to keep up the policies the Obama administration has put in place.
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The Dakota Access Pipeline Project
The purpose of the Dakota Access Pipeline Project is to use 30” diameter pipeline to connect productions areas across the Northern U.S. with crude oil. Don’t let the innocent language fool you – the pipeline would be directly under the Missouri River, the primary source of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Builders insist there’s no way for there to be a leak, but the impact of a break would beyond devastating, and builders have made such promises before.
Protestors – who were not treated as the peaceful protestors that they were – worked for months to halt the building of the pipeline. Despite mistreatment and arrests, the protestors organized by the Standing Rock Tribe eventually won. The pipeline has since been re-routed. The effort revealed the power of a grassroots campaign to make big changes for us all.
Obama’s Ban on Offshore Drilling in Arctic
On December 20, President Obama announced a ban on offshore oil and gas drilling along the Arctic and in the Atlantic Seaboard. In an effort to establish a legacy the Trump administration couldn’t easily overturn, Obama invoked an obscure 1953 law called the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. He suggests this gives him unilateral authority to act.
Other presidents have used this act in the past to temporarily protect smaller areas of federal waters, but Obama’s permanent ban on drilling in portions of the ocean floor from Virginia to Maine and along a majority of the Alaskan coast is a game-changer. Because it’s never been done before, the declaration will likely wind up in the federal courts for ultimate closure.
Good News From 2016
Though there’s still lots of reason for concern, some great things happened for the world last year. For instance, in 2016, over 20 countries pledged $5.3 billion for ocean conservation. They also created 40 new sanctuaries for marine life, covering 3.4 million square kilometers.
Here are a few more exciting environmental changes that may not have been so publicized:
- British Columbia, Canada made provisions to protect 85% of the world’s biggest temperate rainforests, including the beautifully named “Spirit Bear.”
- Peru and Bolivia agreed to a $500 million deal in February that will preserve Lake Titicaca.
- Malaysia developed a 1 million-hectare marine park that uses various marine conservation strategies. It took almost 13 years of negotiations, but it became a reality in 2016.
- Initiatives take time, but they matter. For instance, in 2012, Mexico and the U.S. began an unprecedented bi-national project to restore the Colorado River. In 2016, the results have been astonishing and hold hope for what can be done for future conservation projects.
Hope for 2017
Environmental change is too slow for those of us who understand the impact of climate change, but the U.S. and other global powers are beginning to see that what is good for the earth is good for us all.