Climate Highs

In a disappointing year for the fight against the climate emergency, there were still reasons to celebrate

December 20, 2019

5:01 pm

Oh, 2019. You have been such an important year in many climate-centric ways — after all, Earth’s Call Fund was born in 2019, officially launching back in May in Aspen.

And we saw the emergence of an incredible cohort of youth leadership on climate, not only from Time magazine’s Person of the Year, the indefatigable Greta Thunberg, but from Katie Eder (Future Coalition), Alexandria Villaseñor (Earth Uprising), Xiye Bastida (The Peoples Climate Movement-New York), Xiuhtezcatl Martinez (Earth Guardians), Autumn Peltier (First Nations water commissioner), Jamie Margolin (Zero Hour), Hilda Flavia Nakabuye (Fridays for Future Uganda), and the Wijsen sisters, Melati and Isabel (Bye Bye Plastic Bags).

Their efforts led to a historic week of climate action in September, as more than 7 million took to the streets to voice their solidarity with the movement. And with the exception of Hilda (22) and Katie (20), all of the other activists listed here are teenagers — we know the planet has capable allies for the next generation.

But there are so many … challenges. Despite the success of the climate strikes in September, greenhouse gas emissions have still continued to rise (a 4% increase, in fact, since the Paris Agreement was signed). The U.S. has announced its intention to pull out of the Paris Agreement. COP25, the four-year follow-up to Paris, was a “staggering failure.”

As we pause for a breath before the New Year — a momentous year that will see a U.S. presidential election, the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the 50th anniversary of the World Economic Forum/Davos (which has climate front and center on its agenda), and a now-critical COP26 in Glasgow — let’s take a look at a few inspiring stories.

Lost in the shuffle of a chaotic UN Week, the annual Barron Prize for Young Heroes was again bestowed to 25 North American youth ages 8 to 18 “who have made a significant positive difference to people and the environment.” Among this year’s winners were Anna Du (13), who invented a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) that detects microplastics on the ocean floor; Maanasa Mendu (16), who invented an inexpensive and globally applicable renewable-energy device; and Charlie Abrams and Jeremy Clark (15 and 14), who co-founded Affected Generation, a youth-led non-profit working to fight climate change.

Consumers are more aware — woke? — than ever about the private sector’s role in the environment, and have far less tolerance for corporate obfuscation and opacity. Consider the rise of supply-chain transparency, which, as the Harvard Business Review notes, shows that “Companies are under pressure from governments, consumers, NGOs, and other stakeholders to divulge more information about their supply chains, and the reputational cost of failing to meet these demands can be high.” And also the hypocrisy factor, where a company can have a social-good initiative that is at odds with its own behavior. “Brands should remember that saying one thing and then doing another is usually worse than just being straightforwardly awful,” notes advertising site Muse by Clio.

A slew of new words emerged related to the climate emergency, including “climate emergency,” which the Oxford Dictionary selected as its 2019 word of the year. Other candidates included “climate crisis,” “ecocide,” “global heating,” “climate action,” and “eco-anxiety.” The selection of the word of the year tries to capture the "preoccupations of the passing year, and have a lasting potential as a term of cultural significance," said the Oxford team, and “climate emergency” certainly does that.

Earth’s Call itself switched in mid year from utilizing the term “climate change” to “climate emergency” and “climate crisis.” One of the organizations that helped influence that decision was the Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom. The Columbia Journalism Review noted that, “For some time now, by far the best daily reporting on climate change has come from the Guardian.” This year, the Guardian went beyond being one of the premiere sources for essential climate coverage: it issued a climate pledge; adopted a number of important style changes that reflect the urgency of the climate emergency; announced that it had become “the first news organization to acquire BCorp certification”; and even vowed that it “will achieve net zero emissions by 2030.”

While the Guardian set the bar very high, both the New York Times and the Washington Post have formidable commitments to climate coverage. Both the links here are worth visiting during the holiday downtime to catch up on some of the most important climate-related stories of 2019.

And let’s give a shout out to a climate newsletter, of which we here at Earth’s Call are tremendous fans: Heated. Emily Atkins’ newsletter has been a source of great pleasure — and information.

As we head into 2020, relax — and regroup. Because we’re all going to need to do just a little bit more to help move the needle on the fight against the word of 2019.

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