Staying up-to-date on environmental issues can be an emotionally draining experience. There are plenty of dire warnings, devastating events and upsetting scenes going around, but little in the way of positive eco-stories. You may already have read our previous article on some of 2021’s lesser-known climate-related stories. It’s a sobering read but one that makes an interesting counterpoint to this post.
And in a week where the UK Government is due to host a global summit for finding solutions to the climate emergency, politicians also voted to allow water companies to dump raw sewage into UK rivers. Sometimes, it feels as if we’re taking one step forward and two steps back, which is why we wanted to find some nicer eco-stories from 2021 that you may have missed.
Have You Heard the Good Eco-News?
The Coal Pipeline Has Shrunk
Fewer coal-fired power plants are being built. According to the Eco Business website, the global pipeline of new coal plant projects has shrunk by 76% since 2015. Countries no longer see coal as a viable future energy source, and that’s good news. Forty-four countries now have zero plans of starting new coal plant projects; it’s a significant improvement even compared to 5 years ago.
The Guardian quoted Chris Littlecott, associate director at E3G, saying that coal’s economics is “increasingly uncompetitive in comparison to renewable energy…’ The lower costs of renewable options mean that coal projects are now less attractive. Coal may be cheap, but it’s far more damaging to the environment and burning it produces far more carbon dioxide than oil or gas. Any strategy designed to reduce the impact of climate change must consign coal-fired power plants to the history books. The Paris Agreement means that countries must work together to keep global temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees. The reduction and then elimination of coal is key to achieving this. According to the World Energy Agency, worldwide coal usage must end by 2040. What’s more, China’s President Xi Jinping announced in September that the country would no longer build new coal-powered stations abroad. And whilst China is currently the biggest producer of greenhouse gas emissions globally, it’s important to note the significant attitude shift occurring at some of the highest levels of government.
Indigenous Resistance Helps Cut Emissions
According to the Positive News website, Indigenous resistance in North America has helped prevent significant amounts of carbon from entering the atmosphere. Fossil fuel projects that were either ‘cancelled’ or ‘delayed’ thanks to the political lobbying, direct action, social media campaigns, and divestment of native communities is the equivalent of 400 coal-fired power plants or one-quarter of annual US and Canadian emissions. The Indigenous Resistance Against Carbon campaign has successfully stopped several high profile attempts to devastate important ecosystems, including drilling in the National Arctic Wildlife Refuge. Native Americans and the Aboriginal peoples of Canada have long defended not just their right to sacred lands but the preservation of ecosystems, landscapes, and natural resources for everyone. The recent report published by the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) and Oil Change International quantifies those efforts so that indigenous populations, and those outside them, can better see just how important and worthwhile resistance against big companies can be.
There’s a tree in the Harvard Forest that’s been tweeting since 2017. After a hiatus due to COVID-19, it’s once again putting messages out into the world. Researchers are hopeful that ‘a witness tree’ will help people learn more about trees and make them more relatable. But it’s not just social media followers that will be learning more. Scientists are also watching closely. The Harvard Forest witness tree is a 100-year-old red oak. Sensors and cameras on it monitor and report its health, the health of its surroundings, and sap and water levels. There’s also a camera recording leaf growth. This data is then included inside personable tweets using the trees ‘persona’. Using technology to create relationships between people and nature is key to helping raise awareness of how vital such ecosystems are. This Witness Tree Project has been influenced by TreeWatch Net, which monitors sensor data from trees in other parts of the world.
The Conversation reports that the long-term goal of both treewatch and a witness tree is to ‘work together to build a vast, international network of tweeting trees. The data will help create insights into the forest’s wellbeing.
Major Retailers Commit to a Zero-Carbon Shipping Future
We’re all used to hearing how bad the aviation industry is for the planet. You may be surprised to hear that the shipping industry is a significant contributor to environmental damage, too. Cargo ships contribute around 3% of all global carbon emissions. Most of what we buy makes its way to us via container ship. The more we buy, the more ships that are needed on the world’s oceans and waterways. Some of retails biggest and most respected names are contributing to this increase in shipping. But things are changing. Forty companies, including Amazon, IKEA, Unilever, and Patagonia, have pledged only to use ships powered by zero-carbon fuels by 2040. The Conversation states that decarbonising shipping will be tricky. Battery storage isn’t advanced enough to maintain power for much more than short journeys, and container ships can take many weeks to reach their destination port. This year, Dutch shipping company Maersk announced that it was speeding up its timeline to order only carbon-neutral fuel container ships. The Eight ships on order will cost the company around $1 billion. Maersk told Sky News that the new vessels would carry about 16,000 containers, saving approximately one million tonnes of CO2 emissions each year.
New Traffic Light Eco-Impact Food Scheme Launched
Thanks to a pilot scheme launching in Autumn 2021, UK customers will soon be able to assess the environmental impact of their food more clearly. Similarly to current labelling for calories, fat, sugar, and salt content, packaging will also show how sustainable their food is. Consumer comparison website Which? writes that customers will now see a product’s carbon emissions, related biodiversity loss, and water usage during production. Each product will be graded from A+, the highest rating, through to G. A traffic light system will make the data more accessible. Several major food brands have signed up, including Nestle, Sainsbury’s, Costa Coffee, and Marks and Spencer. If the pilot scheme goes well, it will be rolled out across the UK and Europe in Autumn 2022. The more informed that shoppers are, the better decisions they’ll be able to make in the supermarket. Companies are more likely to change business practices if the pressure is consumer-led. Hopefully, a greater understanding of sustainability will help the entire industry become eco-friendlier.
And of course, in June 2021, Energym launched its electricity-generating indoor bike. One example of how something as simple as daily exercise can add up and provide useable clean electricity to individuals and businesses. In 2022, the technology is going into gyms, too. Find out more about the RE:GEN and learn how you can generate clean electricity through indoor cycling.