The Year in Climate Action

Climate change continued to hit home this year in communities across the country. Record-breaking drought, fires and storms threatened people from California to Florida. And reports from the world’s leading scientists confirmed once again that fossil fuel pollution is causing climate change and that some of its most dangerous impacts are accelerating faster than expected.

But 2014 will also be remembered as a year when America showed real climate leadership at home and abroad. This is the first time since I’ve been working on this issue for 20 years when people ask me if things are finally changing for the better.

Our nation took steps to clean up climate change pollution, make the air safer to breathe, and shield communities from extreme weather. The clean energy sector added 36,000 new jobs in the first three-quarters, and prices for solar and wind energy continued to drop—sometimes costing less than natural gas. And states, cities, companies, churches, and individuals are developing their own measures to reduce carbon emissions.

Polluting industries and their allies in Congress lined up to block this progress, but the call for a sustainable future is growing louder and louder. Here are a few highlights from 2014:

The EPA Sets Limits on Biggest Source of Climate Change Pollution

Reducing carbon pollution from power plants is the single most important step the US can take to confront climate change right now. These plants kick out 40 percent of carbon pollution—the largest source in the country—and yet the US let them dump as much as they wanted. President Obama set out to fix that. He directed the EPA to limit carbon pollution from power plants by 26 percent in 2020 and 30 percent by 2030. This is a major dent in US emissions. Making these cuts will generate jobs, spur investment and save people money on electricity bills. NRDC has outlined ways the EPA can make a good plan better, but we welcome this major advance in the fight against climate change.   

More than 400,000 Take to the Streets for Climate Action

On September 21, I joined more than 400,000 concerned citizens for the People’s Climate March in New York City to demand leaders confront climate change. It was the biggest climate rally in history and confirmed two game-changing facts. First, the climate movement is broad and diverse. The march drew college students, executives, union workers, Latino leaders, indigenous groups, farmers, nurses, and social justice activists. Second, all these communities are coming together as a potent force. Whether it is taking to the streets or sending more than 8 million comments to the EPA in favor of carbon limits, people are organizing, engaging, and making their voices heard.   

US & China Reach Groundbreaking Agreements to Cut Pollution

For years the world’s two biggest global warming polluters lagged behind in international efforts to confront climate change. Then in November, President Obama and President Xi Jinping announced ambitious plans. The US will cut carbon pollution to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025—doubling the pace at which the US is moving now. China pledged to hit the peak of its carbon emissions around 2030, and will boost its non-fossil fuel energy to around 20 percent. China will also cap coal use in 2020, a goal NRDC has been pressing that will help China achieve its emissions cuts. These breakthroughs shifted the international conversation, inspiring other nations to make their own commitments to clean up carbon pollution at the UN climate talks in Lima.

ALEC Comes Under Fire for Its Climate Denial

Ignoring risk is never good for business. That’s why Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and more than 100 leading companies withdrew from the American Legislative Exchange Council this year over its climate denial. ALEC’s members—including many polluting fossil fuel industries—write model legislation for state lawmakers. Several bills are designed to block climate action, and at an ALEC conference in August, the group promoted statements such as, “There is no need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.” This blatant disregard for reality alienated companies accustomed to dealing with facts and figures. Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said about ALEC, “They’re just…they’re just literally lying.”

The Push to Divest from Fossil Fuels Grows Stronger

A number of influential voices are calling for divestment from the primary driver of climate change: fossil fuels. In September, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund—founded by Standard Oil heirs—joined Generation Capital and the World Council of Churches to urge organizations to sell assets tied to fossil fuels. Archbishop Desmond Tutu supported the effort, saying “People of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change.” More than 180 colleges and pension funds are divesting from oil, gas, and coal. And in April, NRDC partnered with the FTSE Group and BlackRock to launch the first stock market index to exclude fossil fuels. This is one example of a solution that appeals to a broad audience, including those who would rather use markets than government safeguards to incentivize climate action.

GOP Takes Control of Congress, Vows to Block Climate Solutions

The November elections placed Congress in the hands of GOP leaders bent on trashing clean air and water and allow unlimited climate change pollution. This pro-polluter agenda is not what the majority of Americans want. Poll after poll shows strong support for environmental protection. An ABC/Washington Post survey, for instance, found that 7 in 10 Americans support federal action to reduce carbon pollution. Yet Republican leaders have vowed to block climate action at every turn. The next few months are likely to bring an onslaught of attacks on environmental protection, but we can push back by demanding that Congress champion people not polluters.

Photo: on Flickr.