The Top 10 Inspiring Environmental Stories of 2015

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As we move ahead into the new year, we thought it would be fun to take a look back at some of the top environmental stories of 2015. Check these out for inspiration, and let’s make 2016 the greenest year ever!

2015 saw some truly great strides in environmental health. More countries than ever are jumping on the renewables bandwagon, and pledging to source more and more of their energy needs from greener sources. The history-making Paris Climate Change Deal capped off the year on a high note, and left us looking forward to a cleaner and greener future.

This doesn’t mean the battle is over though; in fact, it has only just begun. But every little step you can make towards living a greener and more sustainable lifestyle helps add to the momentum.

Check out these amazing top 10 environmental stories from last year, and get inspired to make 2016 even better!

1. A Breakthrough Climate Deal in Paris

…By the end of nearly two weeks of negotiations, the talks not only avoided outright failure, but exceeded expectations. The new global climate change agreement establishes a revised goal of keeping average global temperature rise “well below 2 degrees Celsius,” sets up a clear mechanism for countries’ greenhouse gas reductions to be revisited every five years, and, for the first time, commits every nation-state on Earth—196 different entities—to do something to address this collective threat.

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The Paris Accords mark a real turning point in history. The era of climate inaction is over; the era of climate action has begun. The hard work of getting to a 100 percent clean energy economy starts now.

2. Obama Denies Keystone XL Pipeline Permit

Four years ago, most of Washington, D.C.’s “energy insiders” agreed that the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline was a done deal….

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Several massive grassroots mobilizations and hundreds of smaller rallies later, the fight over Keystone XL had become the environmental movement’s signature battle. In the end, greens won: In November, President Obama announced that he would not approve the pipeline.

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Cynics still quibble that even as Keystone became a cause celebre, hundreds of other oil and gas pipelines were constructed. True. And, at the same time, many of those faced stiff local and regional and even national opposition. That’s why the Keystone XL will victory will matter for years to come. Fossil fuel infrastructure projects are no longer inevitable; at the very least they won’t go forward without a fight…..

3. Laudato Si’

Since the turn of the century, a growing number of religious leaders have made bold statements linking environmental protection to their faiths….

But few faith-based statements on the environment have demonstrated the moral force—or sweeping vision—of Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical, Laudato Si’ (or, Praise Be to You). Released in June, Francis’ 184-page message laid out a stinging condemnation of industrial society’s reckless destruction of natural systems and articulated a radical ideal of our ethical responsibilities toward the rest of life on Earth.

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…Francis’ impassioned message makes clear that the effort to protect our shared planet —and to ensure that all people have the same basic access to clean air, clean water, and a livable environment—is among the greatest moral tests of our time.

4. Hottest Year on Record

…Temperature records across the globe were knocked down like so many bowling pins, making 2015 the hottest in recorded history. September was a real scorcher. According to NOAA, it was the warmest September since the 1880s. The heat wave kept on into autumn. In November average temperatures across land and sea were 1.75 degrees above the twentieth century average. The temperature departure was the second highest in record-keeping. As for the highest temperature departure in recorded history? Well, that occurred just a month before, when October exceeded the twentieth century average by 1.79 degrees.

The effects were impossible to miss: A record drought in California that prompted sweeping water conservation efforts; a summer heat wave in Pakistan that killed at least 1,200 people; an especially strong El Niño phenomenon brewing in the Pacific.

Climatologists forecast that 2016 will be even hotter. Welcome to the new normal. If you’re under 30 years old, you’ve never lived in a month in which planetary temperatures were cooler than the twentieth century average. Global warming is no longer some sort of “future threat”; it’s a clear and present reality.

5. Under the Dome Goes Viral

No, I don’t mean the television series based on the Stephen King book about the residents of a small town trapped inside a mysterious invisible wall. I’m talking about Chinese journalist Chai Jing’s blockbuster film documentary about the horrific air pollution in China. Similar to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth in form and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in its simmering moral outrage, Under the Dome instantly became a viral phenomenon after it was released online in February. Within three days at least 150 million people in China viewed the hour-and-a-half documentary until, predictably, Chinese government officials tore it off the Internet.

The Chinese public’s enthusiastic embrace of the film reveals that environmental concerns have become a real political force in China. An overwhelming majority of Chinese says water and air pollution are big problems….

And the central government is responding. In March the government announced that in 2016 it will close the last of Beijing’s coal-fired power plants. Nationwide, 2,000 smaller coal plants will also be shuttered. The government has also put in place new incentives for renewables, and the country will install 5.3 gigawatts of solar capacity this year.

Spurred by popular sentiment, China is on the verge of going green.

6. President Obama Establishes New Monuments and Marine Sanctuaries

This year, President Obama bolstered his legacy as a conservationist when he used his power under the Antiquities Act to establish four new national monuments. In February he protected 20,000 acres on the Arkansas River. Then in July he established three new National Monuments….Together, the four new monuments preserve more than one million acres.

Then, in October, Obama announced the creation of the first new marine sanctuaries in 15 years. The new reserves protect an 875-square mile area of Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan and a portion of the tidal waters of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay….

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7. Wolves Return to California

I know, I know, some sort of wolf story makes it on this list every year. That’s because wolves are badass—and of course because the wolf is the classic emblem of wildness. The wolf’s ability to reclaim some of its territory is as good an indicator as any of wild nature’s resilience in the face of human pressures.

So it was thrilling when the California Fish and Wildlife Department announced in August that a wolf pack, dubbed the “Shasta Pack,” had established a home in the rugged mountains in the northernmost part of the state….

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8. #ExxonKnew

…This fall, several news outlets (working independently) broke the news that oil giant ExxonMobil had known as early as the 1970s that carbon dioxide emissions were fueling the greenhouse effect—and yet the company continued to wage a political and media campaign to cloud the public’s understanding of climate science.

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The reporting from Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times has prompted many people to make comparisons between Big Oil and Big Tobacco, which was famously brought down by a similar scientific cover-up. The New York Attorney General has launched a sweeping probe of the company’s actions, and Democratic members of Congress are calling for the Justice Department to investigate. It seems only a matter of time before Exxon executives will have to appear before Congress, or in a courtroom, and testify about what the company knew about climate change, and when the company knew it.

9. China Bans Ivory Imports

…The government in China, which is by far the biggest market for illegal ivory, is taking strong measures to close its borders to elephant tusks. In September, Chinese President Xi Jingping and President Obama said their nations would work more closely together to close the ivory trade. Then, a month later, the Chinese forestry ministry announced a one-year suspension of ivory trophy imports.

The Chinese government’s new hardline against ivory won’t completely shut down the trade, not given the sophisticated black market that’s in place. But the official stance (China also destroyed more than 6 tons of  seized ivory in 2015) could erode the social license that exists within Chinese society for possessing ivory carvings….

10. Canadians Overthrow the Petro-State

…During his 10 years as Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper routinely pissed off environmentalists and progressives. He was an aggressive booster for the Alberta tar sands, retreated from the country’s greenhouse gas reduction commitments, eviscerated the Environment Ministry and muzzled scientists, and ratcheted up government surveillance of activists. In November, he was booted out of office.

The new prime minister, Justin Trudeau…, has already shown that the petro state to the north is headed in a new direction. He banned oil tankers off of the north coast of British Columbia, effectively killing the proposed Northern Gateway tar sand pipeline. He renamed the Environment Ministry the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. And his government played a cooperative role in the Paris climate talks….

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Check out all of the full stories at SierraClub.org.

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