Hillbilly Environmentalist: Good News and Encouraging Trends

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 I realize that I could be susceptible to derision for the title of this piece, especially in these times, when there is almost daily bombardment from the White House and Congress to the contrary. In this very blog, I have written over the past few weeks about potentially catastrophic executive orders to destroy positive actions towards climate change, efforts—and successes—to undo stream protections, and shrinking biodiversity world-wide. These deleterious effects can be felt right here in the Southern Appalachians and Piedmont.

However, there certainly are some positive signs, trends, and actions taking place all around us that can give those concerned about environmental health and stewardship reasons to be optimistic, despite the efforts in the opposite direction by some of our government officials. Here are a few:

  • Over the past three years (2014-2016), global CO2 emissions have leveled off, mostly due to decreasing levels of coal burning for electricity generation, according to the Global Carbon Budget annual report of November 2016. Leveling off is not good enough, as we must significantly decrease global emissions to keep global temperatures from increasing more than 1.5-2.0 °C (2.7-3.6 °F). However, as a U.K. professor of carbon management puts it, “This may be the turning point we have hoped for.”
  • Electric car maker Tesla is now the most valuable U.S. car manufacturer, overtaking Ford and GM over the past few weeks. Tesla produced only 76,000 cars in 2016, as compared to GM’s 10 million and Ford’s 6.7 million, but the valuation shows the optimism of investors for Tesla’s potentially-revolutionary advances in electric car technology. Tesla plans to roll out its widely-anticipated Model 3 sedan later this year.
  • Zunum Aero announced last week that it plans to fly electric planes, powered by batteries manufactured for electric cars, for shorter, regional flights by the early 2020s (which, admittedly, some analysts think is an overly-optimistic target).
  • Almost daily one can read of an inspiring story of individuals and conservation groups making great strides to preserve more land, and to piece together corridors to connect tracts of preserved land. Just last week in the Asheville, NC area, we saw headlines celebrating the preservation of a tract of land on the edge of North Mills River, a pristine delayed-harvest trout stream between Brevard and Asheville. One of the groups was the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, partnering with Trout Unlimited, Pisgah National Forest, and conservationist Tom Oreck of Asheville.
  • The bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives is now up to 36 members—18 Republicans and 18 Democrats. For a Democrat to join the Caucus, he/she must have a corresponding Republican to join. The Climate Solutions Caucus explores “policy options that address the impacts, causes, and challenges of our changing climate.”
  • Renewable energy—hydro-electric, wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal—accounted for 15% of U.S. electricity generation in 2016, up from about 10% in 2010.
  • Speaking of renewable energy, wind power capacity is accelerating in the U.S. and abroad. In 2015, wind accounted for 41% of U.S. power capacity additions. A majority of U.S. states have utility-scale wind turbines, led by Texas, Iowa, Illinois, and California, and the S. Department of Energy projects that 48 states will have utility-scale wind by 2050. See the promising trend and projections in wind capacity in the graph below.

The positive signs and trends are out there—you just have to look for them, and not become numb because of the ubiquitous anti-environmental messages coming from the White House and Scott Pruitt. Next week I will write about what we as individuals can do in some of these areas to help continue the positive trends.


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