Environmental wins in 2017

I know, New Year’s is over, but if your Inbox was like mine you got countless fundraising messages, few of which described the good things a person or an organization got done last year… or even specific promises of what the funding would help with next year. For example, “what we raise as we head into 2018 will be crucial to defeating the ______________,” or “New Year’s is just hours away. If you haven’t given to _____________, do so now!” or “win, win, and win some more. So we’re planning for that in 2018” or “in 2018, we want to continue supporting these local leaders, and inspire even more change.” Even more emails came in today!

Why campaign to defeat people instead of defeating bad ideas? ‘Win, win, win’ – really? WHO says that? Donate to “inspire” change – Why not actual make change happen?

I’m an Executive Director of a non-profit too, and I know that you try to raise funds at times when donors are likely to be responsive to your message. The end of the year is one of those times, at least for the 1-in-3 Americans who itemize their charitable deductions. So perhaps my organization is doomed. Nonetheless, I spent New Year’s with my family, not sending fundraising messages, and being thankful for the best things in the year past and reflecting on the year ahead.

So here is my New Year’s Day message: these are seven fantastic things that happened for our environment in 2017 and some of the people and organization’s behind them. (None of them had anything to do with my organization.) Great work and congratulations to all the people and hard work that made these victories possible!

Northeastern states have been rocking efforts to address climate change and in 2017, secured a bipartisan agreement to continue reducing emissions from 164 power plants throughout the region, with a new goal that takes the plan to 2030. There has already been a 45% reduction in emissions in the region since 2005 and the program generated $2.6 billion in revenue, that was put into programs that have achieved $5.7 billion in public health benefits, created thousands of jobs and provided more than $600 million in energy savings, especially for lower income residents. Some will argue that this program doesn’t deserve the credit – but it’s a signature piece associated with dozens of smart climate initiatives led by Democratic and Republican governors through the Northeast. My hope? New Jersey will be back in the agreement by the end of the year. A shout out to California’s passage of a sweeping extension of its cap-and-trade climate program as well.
Maryland passed the Clean Water Commerce Act, that will expand the role of the private sector and speed of achievement of Chesapeake Bay environmental goals. It’s a small program, piloting a new approach to water quality, but is indicative of the growing success of efforts throughout the Chesapeake Bay states to achieve a healthy, thriving Bay. This year saw blue crab populations at their highest in 28 years.
The Trump Administration has rightfully provided protection under the Endangered Species Act to more species in its first year than the Obama or Bush Administrations did in their first years. Yellowstone National Park’s grizzly bears are no longer endangered (a decision that the Obama and Bush Administrations both tried to make as well).
Groups like Environmental Defense Fund and Senators like Arizona’s John McCain were involved in a successful effort to maintain regulation on the release of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) from oil and gas wells on federal lands.
The City of Fargo, North Dakota won an energy innovation prize from Georgetown University by reducing citywide energy use by over 172 million BTUs (a 7% reduction in 4 years), worked with churches to build awareness of energy efficient ideas, and created an online ‘eFargo’ tool to help everyone track energy use. Go Fargo!
In 1972, the Illinois River, was extensively polluted, home only to carp and goldfish (both of which can tolerate high levels of pollution). Spurred by the federal Clean Water Act, local and state efforts have led to a dramatic turnout as documented by this new research that came out in 2017. Healthy sportfish populations (and a vibrant recreational fishing economy) thrive all along the river that enters the Great Lakes in Chicago.
Louisiana’s Governor and legislature passed an ambitious Coastal Master Plan, identifying $50 billion in coastal restoration priorities that will help support the state’s coastal communities and economy and provide more resilience to future hurricanes and climate-related storms. The legislature also passed a bill that creates an innovative public-private partnership approach to coastal restoration. The state has a long way to go to find that $50 billion, but congrats are due for the pace at which they are working on this and related efforts.

This is not a comprehensive or quantitative list, but in the face of so much bad news, I wanted to celebrate the wonderful victories that people and leaders across the country have made happen this year. Sure, there is always more to do, none of these are perfect stories, all are still a work in progress…. but … each of these victories matter to the people, communities, ecosystems and economies that touch them. Congratulations!

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