5 really awful things that we should try and be thankful for anyway

2011 environmental disasters
CC BY 2.0 the real Kam75

As Americans gather to celebrate the holiday with our families, we are reminded of the many things we have to be thankful for.

And then there's the other stuff.

But in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I'm wondering if we can muster up some gratitude for some of the less wonderful things we see going on around us too.

Let's give it a try.

Utilities are lining up to restrict solar growth

From (ultimately unsuccessful) efforts to charge for net metering in Arizona to worried murmurings from the Edison Institute about the disruptive challenges of distributed power, it seems some of the vested interests in the energy sector are limbering up for a fight. Indeed, ALEC-backed fake free marketeers have been busy trying to derail the growth of the clean energy sector.

This might be a good sign though.

As Gandhi once said, first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win. With at least one German utility transforming its entire business model in favor of renewables, it looks like the status quo is increasingly under pressure.

Methane emissions higher than expected

From increasing methane emissions from permafrost to an alarming report that suggests US methane emissions are 50% higher than accounted for, news about "the other" greenhouse gas has not been good lately. And because methane is 20 to 30 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2, there are very good reasons to be concerned.

Here's a tiny slice of good news though: methane doesn't hang about as long in the atmosphere as CO2. So every step we take to slash our methane emissions will have very real, near-term impacts on future warming. Ozzy Osbourne going vegan may be more significant than we thought.

The media is obsessed with Tesla fires

Tesla fires Elon Musk photoYoutube/Screen capture

Unless you've been living under a fireproof blanket for the last few months, you'll know there have been three fires in Tesla vehicles. On the one hand, this is an immensely frustrating storm in a tea cup for those of us who believe electric vehicles are a part of our sustainable future. On the other hand, they are a reminder that electric cars are now a major news story, and that a plucky, innovative startup is now a nationally recognized brand name. Who'd have thought that just a few short years ago?

Renewable energy subsidies are on their way out

Attending a renewable energy conference in North Carolina recently, much of the talk was around a phasing out of state and federal solar subsidies in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Unless something changes, there didn't seem to be much optimism for a renewal.

On the face of it, such policy changes might represent a significant challenge to an industry that is still competing with massive incumbents on a far from level playing field. (Price on carbon, anyone?) But most of the people I spoke to didn't seem too worried.

In fact, when I interviewed solar industry veteran Michael Shore for the NC Sustainability Center recently, he had this to say about weaning the industry off of subsidies:

Not only is this possible, but I think it’s our job. Unlike the fossil fuel industry which seems permanently addicted to big subsidies, the solar sector will eventually wean itself from government incentives in the coming years.

Clean energy companies going out of business

From Solyndra to SunTech to Better Place, there have been plenty of clean tech companies going out of business in recent years. But as Michael noted in his post on the SunTech bankruptcy, this is not necessarily a bad thing. From correcting over capacity in the market to eliminating some questionable, experimental technologies, there are plenty of reasons why individual companies going out of business is actually beneficial for the overall health of the low carbon economy. No doubt, it sucks for the people who work there, and for those who have invested in the business, for the rest of us though - it's the overall growth of the low carbon future that we have to keep our eye on. There are strong signs that that growth is robust.

There we have it, an optimist's guide to some negative headlines.

There's no doubt we face some enormous challenges in the years ahead if we are to combat climate change, reverse the extinctions going on around us, and heal the ecosystems we rely on for survival. Many of the stories above represent real, troubling trends about the uphill struggle we face. But, as with any challenge, they also represent opportunity. We can't be naive in our outlook on the future, but we also can't be defeatist. The future is what we make of it. And for that, I am thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving!

5 really awful things that we should try and be thankful for anyway
Even armageddon has a silver lining.

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