John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who writes and comments about ecology for the 15 year old Seattle based online environmental non-profit Grist. Here are Upton’s choices for 2013’s top five positive climate stories (something of a rarity at Grist). They run the gamut from Obama and climate activists, to energy and EVs.
1. Obama shows he cares about the climate
President Barack Obama unveiled an actual, coherent climate plan in June, full of steps he can take without cooperation from Congress. The centerpiece is regulations cracking down on coal-burning power plants in the U.S. The plan also entails ending U.S. support for most coal plants abroad. And it calls for boosting renewables and energy efficiency, cutting fossil fuel subsidies, preparing for climate change that’s already inevitable, and lots of other good stuff. To the surprise of almost everyone, Obama also said he wouldn’t approve the Keystone XL pipeline if it were determined that it would “significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” Of course, there’s lots of debate over that question.
2. Activists ramp up fight against oil pipelines, fracking, and coal exports
Many Americans are refusing to stand idly by while fossil-fuel interests run rampant, and these activists made more noise than ever in 2013. A marathon of protests against Keystone XL have helped stymie federal approval, at least so far, and other pipeline projects have come under fire as well. Anti-fracking activism has kicked into high gear around the country. Residents of four Colorado cities passed bans or moratoriums on fracking in November, as did voters in Oberlin, Ohio. Fractivists have pushed Massachusetts to move toward banning fracking, and New York to keep a fracking moratorium in place while a study of health and environmental impacts plods forward. Meanwhile, residents of the Pacific Northwest are waging battle against plans for new and expanded coal export terminals. And the divestment movement is convincing a growing number of institutions to dump their investments in fossil fuels.
3. Greens get a billionaire backer of their own
Tom Steyer, a hedge-fund manager turned climate activist, started spending big this year on his pet cause — really big. He poured millions into political campaigns in 2013, helping to elect climate hawk Ed Markey (D) as a Massachusetts senator, Terry McAuliffe (D) as Virginia governor, and opponents of a proposed coal terminal in Whatcom County, Wash., as local council members. He’s pushed hard against the Keystone XL pipeline, voicing his views to Obama directly and hosting an anti-Keystone conference in D.C. He’s teaming up with fellow rich guys Michael Bloomberg and Hank Paulson to make the case that climate change threatens the entire global economy. Earlier this month, he launched a campaign for new oil drilling taxes in California. The L.A. Times describes Steyer as “liberals’ answer to the Koch brothers.”
4. Coal and nuclear languishing; solar and wind soaring
U.S. coal and nuclear power plants are on their way out, while solar and wind power are growing rapidly. Increasingly, coal and nuclear facilities can’t produce electricity cheaply enough to compete with new wind, solar, and especially natural gas–powered plants. In the blustery Midwest, wind power is even becoming as cheap as electricity produced from fracked natural gas. Power plant owners this year announced they will close down four nuclear plants: Vermont Yankee in Vermont, San Onofre in California, Kewaunee in Wisconsin, and Crystal River in Florida. Still more nuke plants are vulnerable to being shuttered. And 2013 has seen a stream of news of coal plant closures, including the Tennessee Valley Authority’s announcement that it will shut down eight of its coal-burning generating stations in Alabama and Kentucky.
5. Electric vehicles are hot
As many as 100,000 electric vehicles could end up being sold in the U.S. this year. The sleekest and sexiest among them are Tesla Model S sedans, which debuted this year, helping the Silicon Valley-based startup turn its first profit. The Model S picked up so many accolades, including the best Consumer Reports auto review of all time, that sales exploded. Contrary to media hype, there was no epidemic of the cars themselves exploding. A couple of them did catch fire, but when you smash a car into a wall or a tree, sometimes it’s going to end up in flames, regardless of which model you’re driving.
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Andrew Winston’s Top 10 Sustainable Business Stories for 2013
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The David Suzuki Foundation Reflects on 2013 and Raises the Bar
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Infographic – Review of US Solar in 2013
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