It would be an understatement to say I dislike winter - the grey skies, incessant snow shoveling and the unusually cold weather we've faced this year has me longing for April already. How about some good news? We've spent the holiday season inundated with stories of rampant consumerism, wasteful spending and general doom-and-gloom prophecies for the environment - I know I could use some mid-winter cheer!
Here are four pieces of good news for the environment that should brighten your day:
Increased protection for ancient forests
Spread over many islands and land masses, Indonesia is home to the third largest and one of the most ecologically diverse rain forests in the world. It is home to exotic animals such as the Sumatran tiger, orangutans and more impressively, 17% of all the world’s known bird species. Tragically, deforestation and habitat loss have driven many of these species to near extinction.
However, in an unexpected policy decision, Indonesia’s prime minister declared a moratorium on logging and forest clearing activities in 2013. According to environmental analysts, this moratorium will reduce the rate of deforestation to just 1100 acres a year (from several million hectares per year in the early 2000s!) and will have unprecedented effects on restoring biodiversity and reducing the country’s carbon emissions.
Climate change is still on the rise... but more slowly
Before you get too excited, we’re still on the path towards irrevocable climate change. However, a recent report from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency suggests that while absolute CO2 emissions have indeed increased, they are doing so more slowly. Due to better vehicle efficiencies, reduced energy demand and a gradual shift towards cleaner forms of electricity production, global CO2 emissions increased by only 1.1% compared to 2011. For several of the world’s largest economies, emission rates fell far short of predictions the year before. Perhaps there is still hope for stabilizing emission levels before it is too late!
More people are choosing a vegetarian diet
Animal agriculture accounts for almost 20% of global warming emissions, produces vast amounts of waste that runs into local water supplies and landfills, and causes widespread deforestation – it’s indisputable that a vegetarian diet is the best environmental choice. While it may be difficult to convince most people to give up bacon entirely, vegetarian enthusiasts are quick to point out that small changes in diet can have a significant impact.
Since its ‘rejuvenation’ almost a decade ago, the Meatless Mondays trend has encouraged communities to reduce their environmental impact by going meat free one day a week. Recently, the Norwegian army announced that they would be adopting Meatless Mondays, leading to an annual 150 tonne reduction in meat consumption. A spokesperson told the media “It's a step to protect our climate. The idea is to serve food that's respectful of the environment,” What an incredible step in the right direction!
Novel batteries for renewable energy storage
Despite its low emissions and pollutions, renewable energy often faces criticisms due to a lack of wide-scale energy storage options. Due to the intermittent nature of wind and sunshine, the only way to push renewable towards a base load power supply is to ensure that energy can be harvested when available and stored for when it is needed.
Researchers at Harvard University recently announced a new battery technology that relies on carbon-based molecules that are similar to energy storage in plants. Unlike traditional batteries based on expensive (and toxic) electrolytes, this technology uses quinones – an naturally abundant and relatively inexpensive organic compound found in many common plants and petrochemical products. While the technology is still in its infancy, it could prove revolutionary for global renewable power.