For the last few months we’ve observed an internet saturated with 2016 lamentations in the form of articles, blogs, memes and more, regarding a universally difficult year. In contrast —and in an effort to pull ourselves out of our depression —this post seeks to provide a slightly more positive perspective by bringing attention to some of the good things 2016 gave us:
B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest
January 2016 saw the end of a decade of negotiations around the protection of British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest. Representing one of the largest tracts of intact temperate rainforests in the world, Great Bear is home to a myriad of species including old growth trees, orcas, cougars, Sitka deer, and the mystical-sounding spirit bears. (Evidently, spirit bears are real animals that also go by the name Kermode. They are black bears with a genetic variation that gives their fur a “spirit-like” cream color.) The hard-fought agreement ensures that 85% of the forested area of the northern wilderness will be permanently protected from industrial logging. Logging in the remaining areas will be permitted only conditionally. Richard Brooks, the forest campaign coordinator for Greenpeace Canada, told CBC News “It should give hope to other areas that are currently in conflict, that those conflicts can move towards collaboration and eventually to conservation and economic prosperity and well-being for communities.”
Destroying Dams: A Restoration Project
Historically dams were considered a symbol of American progress; as hard-working structures built to generate electricity and store water for cities and farms throughout the country. But the height of the dam-building era was decades ago, and today we are left with many aged, costly, and obsolete dams causing environmental and safety concerns. A report published by the American Society of Civil Engineers gives dams in the United States a D rating. It estimates more than 4,000 are deficient, with 2,000 labeled as “high-hazard”. Western dams have altered nearly 70% of rivers, decimating core fish populations like salmon and trout. According to the Center for American Progress, more than 65% of dams will have passed their expected lifespan by 2020. For these reasons, among others, the Hewlett Foundation awarded a $50 million grant in 2016 to establish the Open Rivers Fund to support community efforts that remove obsolete dams and restore rivers where it is environmentally beneficial to do so. The Open Rivers Fund has plans for three new projects in 2017: the Matilija Dam in California; the Nelson Dam in Washington; and a series of dams in Oregon’s Rogue River basin.
International Effort Shelters Chernobyl
In April of 1986, a botched test at a power plant in Ukraine caused an explosion that spewed plumes of radioactive ash across thousands of miles. Over two dozen workers died, and countless others were affected by an increase in cancer and other diseases caused by radiation exposure. For the last 30 years, the surrounding area has remained uninhabitable and the reactor a constant toxic threat. However, this past November brought hope to those who continue to be affected by the disaster, when the world’s largest land-based mobile structure was moved over the radioactive site. The arch is designed to eliminate the risk of further contamination and block radiation for at least a century. This feat of engineering took decades of planning and widespread international collaboration — the likes of which the environment could greatly benefit from. As Ukraine’s minister of ecology and natural resources, Ostap Semerak, noted hopefully, “The fact that more than 40 contributing countries and donor countries united around the goal of protecting humanity… is another demonstration that environmental safety remains a priority for global policymakers.”
The Paris Agreement as International Law
If the events above are examples of stepping stones towards global cooperative action against climate change, creating a path over decades of neglect and apathy, then the signing of the Paris Agreement is an entire stone bridge. As a reminder, the Paris Agreement is an international reaction to the growing threat of climate change, focusing on nationally determined contributions. Essentially, each country has been given a goal to reach depending on its specific circumstances (as opposed to the one-size-fits-all model that has yet to be successful on the global stage) and must regularly report on emissions and steps towards implementation. Rainforest Partnership wrote about this unprecedented event earlier this year when the agreement became international law, and will continue to track progress made under the stipulations of this historic agreement.
Standing Rock is perhaps the best story to transport us beyond 2016 and into the new year. For months members of the Sioux tribe and their supporters have protested against the Dakota Access Pipeline, a nearly 1,200-mile pipeline designed to carry crude oil from the Bakken oil fields to pipelines in Illinois. Tribes around the world have organized a resistance movement to stop the pipeline, known prophetically to the Lakota as the “Black Snake”. The project threatens sacred sites and the source of drinking water for as many as 28 tribes in 10 states. To many, Standing Rock represents more than a pipeline. It’s about years of injustices against Native Americans. It’s about taking a stand against corporate greed. It’s about decoupling ourselves from fossil fuel dependence, and defending the environment and the planet we rely on for our survival. In the end, it’s all about our future.