photo: Matthew McDermott
Let's face it, we've had a bit of a tough year, environmentally speaking, in the United States. From the disappointment following COP15, to the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent Gulf Oil Spill, to the mid-term elections throwing into deep doubt any real federal action on environmental issues in the next two years--not to mention the continued scientific reports that we're basically destroying the very web of life upon which we are entirely dependent--it's easy to hang your head.
But you know what, looking back through the TreeHugger archive, there are plenty of inspirational stories and examples of how we can create a better world, for which we can offer genuine thanks. Here are some of those:Americans Want Action on Climate & Energy
Despite all the tough Tea Party talk over the last year, and posturing by fossil fuel companies and other polluters, about how climate change is some combination of a hoax, a ponzi scheme, a threat to our personal freedoms, and a job-killer, multiple independent polls show that people in the US robustly support strong action on climate change and renewable energy.
International Environmental Agreements Can Really Work
It's fashionable among the cynical set to poo-poo the effectiveness of any sort of international agreement on the environment, and the usefulness of the UN more broadly. And I admit, considering the divides still present on reaching a global climate deal, it's easy to fall into that. But remember that's just frustration talking. The Montreal Protocol has proven very effective. Because of strong international cooperation on ozone-depleting chemicals, it's now expected that the ozone layer will recover to pre-1980 levels in about 35-50 years and the polar ozone hole will recover by 2075.
Abolitionism Slowly Takes Hold
When it comes to outlawing polluting activities outright, we've had some very encouraging examples over the previous twelve months: Los Angeles' recent banning of plastic bags, the San Francisco banning Happy Meals, Scotland's goal of 100% renewable energy by 2025, the Indian states of Sikkim and Kerala have begun transitioning to all-organic agriculture in the next five to ten years. All are great steps in the right direction.
The White House Goes Solar
It's been a long time coming that the White House publicly and prominently backed solar power. Even if it's more urban legend than fact that 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has hated solar power since President Carter left office (there's been limited use of solar power on the grounds for a number of years, installed by George W Bush no less) and it would've been nice if the efforts by Bill McKibben and Sungevity weren't rebuffed, only to reverse position on solar shortly thereafter, installing solar powered electricity and solar heated hot water is definitely a good thing.
The Cape Wind Saga is Coming to an End
The US lags far behind Europe when it comes to offshore wind power, and has huge potential for development here, so the fact that over the last year Cape Wind has received all the regulatory approvals needed to begin construction is decided cause for thanks. Now we can hopefully get really going on replacing some coal power with wind.
photo: Andy S-D/Creative Commons
Peak Oil Isn't a Topic for Curmudgeonly Cranks Any More
It well may be too late to avoid an energy crunch resulting from the intersection of rising oil demand and dwindling cheap and easily accessible supplies, but at least know we can hopefully stop debating about when conventional oil supplies will peak. According to a recently released chart, part of the IEA's World Energy Outlook, ,we passed peak of conventional oil production in 2006. Hopefully we can now move on to accepting that fossil fuels aren't likely to get any cheaper and really get going to transitioning to a lower energy world.
Not to mention that there well may be a whole lot less easily accessible coal than we thought.
We've Got Lots of Great Low-Energy Low-Tech Examples From the Past
It's sometimes easy to think, immersed in a high-tech, high-energy world, that a comfortable life is impossible without so much power around. But as a number of great articles have shown, we've got plenty of examples from history (some recent, some not so recent) of how that's not the case.
From Japan's traditional ways of constructing buildings and towns, to all the ways buildings can be kept cool without air conditioning, and how we could be putting our own waste to better use as fertilizer, sometimes you've got to look backwards to progress.
More People Are Realizing That Less is More
Perhaps it's a fortuitous nexus of the recession, environmental awareness, and more people opening there eyes to all the negatives aspects of consumer culture, but over the past year it seems like voluntary simplicity and minimalism have reached some sort of critical (minimal) mass: While certainly not everyone will take minimalism to the extreme of essentially living out of a hard drive, and that's actually probably a good thing, the fact that the BBC reported on it makes it seem like some line of awareness has been crossed.
photo: Adam Campbell/Creative Commons
The Best Things In Life Aren't Things, Proven Again
Fortunately, if you have any lingering doubts that more stuff will make you happy, you can put them to rest: 2010 saw a growing body of studies illuminating just how great the simple (and largely free) activities of just spending time outdoors, developing friendships, moving the body through exercise and yoga, all have very tangible benefits on health, psychology, and life expectancy--the notion that more money won't create more satisfaction in your life has been documented, once more.
It's the Simple Things That Amaze
It's really easy to ignore all the amazingness around us on a daily basis--especially if your a webworker sitting behind a laptop for hours on end and don't make a conscious effort to stop yourself--and perhaps beyond all the other things above to be thankful for, it's these small, simple and frankly profound things that should more often cause us to pause.
Consider that a single plant seed contains the accumulated natural information of millions and millions of years and that seed effortlessly transforms sun, air, water and soil into a growing plant time and time again.
Pick up a single stone of piece of rock (I happened to pick up a coaster made of slate) and realize that what you are holding in your hands is millions of years old. Feel it and your are holding history, pre-history, and pre-pre-history encapsulated.
Walk among truly ancient forest and feel the same thing. Recently I had a chance to stand among redwoods outside of Santa Cruz, California and look up at a tree that was just a sapling when the Roman Empire had just fallen; though the top had fallen off, it was still so tall that I could not see the top in the light coastal clouds.
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More on Giving Thanks:
Give Thanks to the Planet By Enjoying It!
16 Big Green Ideas We're Thankful For
Could You Please Pass (On) the Gratitude?
Things to Be Thankful For, Come Thanksgiving Day?