The Biggest Environmental Wins of 2019

Image: Getty/G/O Media
Year In ReviewYear In ReviewWe look back at the best, worst, and most significant moments of the year, and look forward to next year.

To my surprise, this year from hell has actually gifted the climate movement with some celebratory strides.

That’s right, 2019 wasn’t a complete loss for the planet. Yes, even if air pollution is increasing in the U.S. Even if the Amazon Rainforest burned. And even if the ice just won’t stop melting. We gotta look at the bright side, man, even when everything feels like it’s falling apart. Otherwise, how do remain sane enough to keep fighting for a safe and livable planet?

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Here are some of Earther’s top wins of 2019. Here’s to more (and bigger) wins in 2020.

The Green New Deal goes mainstream

After years as a dream of transitioning off fossil fuels while improving the quality of life for all Americans, the Green New Deal got real this year. Youth activists with the Sunrise Movement elevated the issue throughout the 2018 midterms, and they found allies in the new Congress who were willing to push to decarbonize the economy and not screw people. In February, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced a Green New Deal resolution in the House and long-time climate champion Ed Markey did the same in the Senate. Since then, we’ve seen legislative proposals for a Green New Deal for public housing as well as another housing bill that interlocks with it. On the presidential campaign trail, Elizabeth Warren has proposed a Blue New Deal focused on the oceans.

All these pieces of legislation and proposals still have a long way to go before becoming any type of climate policy, but that’s only because many elected officials are scared of change. The Democrats want to take their time, and the Republicans want to make sure the world ends. At least the American public now knows that the Green New Deal is an option. And nearly all Americans want to see it become a reality.

Photo: Getty
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The climate crisis becomes the center of the Democratic primary

This hype around climate change at the political level isn’t happening in a vacuum, though. The race for the White House is well underway, and climate change has been a top tier issue for Democrats running this year. We can at least in part thank Washington Governor Jay Inslee for that.

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Inslee ain’t running for president anymore, but he was the first candidate to ever run on a platform centered around climate change. He made it such a big part of his campaign, and that’s a large reason why other candidates upped their game on it. And Inslee’s advocacy also got mainstream media outlets that rarely pay mind to this massive issue (or cover it well for that matter) to actually devote substantial time to it by hosting presidential forums and including it as part of debates.

So shout out to Inslee. And shout out to candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren who continue to propose bold policy to help solve this ecological crisis. It’s about damn time people with power start to talk about humanity’s largest threat.

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The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge survives another year

Ever since Donald Trump entered the White House, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska has been under threat (all because a friend told him to open it to drilling). And every year, it’s been spared. This winter, though, the Trump administration had its eyes set on surveying the refuge’s 1.5 million coastal plain. That would’ve been bad news for the polar bears, caribou, and people who live off the land.

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Luckily, the administration blew its chance to get that process underway for this year. That doesn’t mean that the refuge—one of the most pristine landscapes left in the U.S.—is safe. But with any luck, 2020 will be Trump’s last year in the White House. And with the most of the Democrats looking to replace him ready stop drilling on public lands, the refuge may finally be safe. And that’d be the biggest win.

Climate change gets its day in Congress

It’s been nearly an entire decade since the House of Representative wasn’t led by a bunch of dumbass Republicans. And during Republican rule, the House was known more for holding sham hearings on climate change than actually taking the crisis seriously. Now that Democrats run the House, the climate crisis is back in the chambers. This was the year Congress finally held a formal hearing on the crisis.

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And that’s a big deal. Without experts coming in to educate representatives on the crisis, bills won’t get written. Without any bills, the climate crisis will just continue to worsen.

Democrats’ first hearing centered points around climate justice, youth, and solutions. A teen was even invited to speak before Congress (though members did ignore her). Subsequent hearings, including in front of the newly assembled Subcommittee on the Climate Crisis, haven’t been exactly inspiring either. But the progressive wing of the House has put forth bold ideas like the Green New Deal, and the fact that representatives are even talking about climate change is a major step in the right direction.

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Teens file landmark complaint against polluters

This truly was the year of the teens (even if we crowned many young people as heroes in 2017). There’s the rise of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who helped make “climate strike” a word of the year and was named Time’s Person of the Year. She joined forces with 15 other children to launch a freaking legal complaint against five of the world’s major polluters for violating their rights. These 16 young people are challenging Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey to take action to reduce their greenhouse gases with binding commitments. If they succeed, they’ll have made more headway than global leaders have in 25 years of climate talks.

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Renewables have a moment in the UK

Fossil fuel use must end if we want to save the planet. And that means renewable energy will play a major role in our fight against climate change. The U.K. is playing no games in that regard. The world’s largest offshore wind farm came online in June. The energy it generates can power 287,000 homes, but that will increase to a million homes by next year. Yes, a million.

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All this investment in the clean energy sector has allowed the U.K. to derive more electricity from renewables than coal and other fossil fuels this year, largely due to falling renewable energy prices. That hasn’t happened since 1882. It shows even the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution is ready to ditch dirty energy. Bye, Felicia!

Climate emergency declarations explode

Ah, climate emergency—another word of the year. It’s a sign of the times that our language around climate change is shifting. And so are attitudes, as evidenced by the growing number of climate emergency declarations from local, state, and national government. They began to appear last year, but 2019 is the year they took off.

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Scientists have sounded the alarm. More than 1,080 governments have declared climate emergencies, according to data monitored by Climate Mobilization. That includes declarations this year from places as small as a Canadian tribal nation and as big as Canada and the UK. There’s a serious push for the U.S. to do the same. This is all in the span of a year. Right now, most of these declarations don’t really come with any actionable agenda. They’re more of a symbolic move, but that doesn’t mean these declarations are meaningless.

Something tells me that this year’s emergencies are only the beginning.

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About the author

Yessenia Funes

Senior staff writer, Earther. The one who "pulls the race card" in the name of environmental justice. You dig?

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