14 Good News Stories About the Environment

illustration by carra sykes

Paris is Turning Champs-Élysées into a Massive Garden:

The Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, has given the green light to transform the iconic Parisian avenue Champs-Élysées into a green space.

A committee has been campaigning to redesign the avenue since 2018.

“It’s often called the world’s most beautiful avenue, but those of us who work here every day are not at all sure about that,” the committee president, Jean-Noël Reinhardt, said in 2019. “To French people it’s looking worn out.”

The plans include reducing space for vehicles by half, turning roads into pedestrian and green areas, and creating tunnels of trees to improve air quality. Of its 3,000 vehicles that pass each hour, most are just passing through, causing pollution and traffic, according
to the Guardian.

What’s now the face of pollution, cars, tourism, and consumerism, makeover architect Philippe Chiambaretta told the Guardian, needs to be redeveloped to be “ecological, desirable, and inclusive.”

A “Great Green Wall” is Containing Desertification in Africa:

Development banks have pledged more than $14 billion to continue building a "Great Green Wall" across the entire width of Africa to help contain desertification in a northern region of the continent.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced the pledge at an international biodiversity summit in Paris in January, adding that the pledges had exceeded the initial target of $10 billion.

Desertification is moving out of the Sahara into neighboring areas, driving some people into poverty or forcing them to migrate.

Once completed, the “Great Green Wall” will be a 5,000-mile stretch of green space of trees and grassland across the entire continent — from the Atlantic to the
Red Sea. Construction is already 15 percent underway.

"That's 100 million hectares restored, 10 million jobs created, 250 million tonnes of carbon captured," Macron said at the biodiversity summit.

The project promises to bring life back to Africa’s degraded landscapes and provide food security, jobs, and a reason to stay for the millions of people who live along its path.

COVID-19 Led to the Largest Drop in U.S. Emissions Since World War II:

Last year, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions fell 10.3 percent, the largest drop in emissions since World War II, according to a new report from the Rhodium Group. The massive drop is because of declines in the transportation and power industries following the spread of COVID-19.

The drop means that the United States outperformed its pledge made under the Copenhagen Accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. Emissions actually dropped by 21.5 percent.

“With coronavirus vaccines now in distribution, we expect economic activity to pick up again in 2021, but without meaningful structural changes in the carbon intensity of the U.S. economy, emissions will likely rise again as well,” the report by the research group said.

While we know emissions will rise again once pandemic restrictions ease, we can think of these effects as experiments in ways we can create changes that last. We can see 2020 as a sign that change is possible. Actions in reducing our environmental impact, when done by the masses, can actually make a difference.

Saudi Arabia is Building a High-Tech Zero-Carbon City of the Future:

Saudi officials announced they’re building a zero-carbon city where 1 million residents will live among nature — with no cars, no streets, and no carbon emissions.

Construction for the brand-new city, called The Line, starts early this year along the Red Sea coast. Construction will preserve 95 percent of nature in the region where it’s being built.

The city will have three layers: The surface layer is for pedestrians, where residents will have access to all their daily needs within a five-minute walking radius. The second layer is underground and exists for infrastructure. The lowest layer, also underground, contains ultra-high speed transit, which will connect residents with other communities.

“It is a new era of civilization, a new model for a city which is clean, proper, and with zero carbon,” Saudi economist Mazen Al-Sudairi told Arab News. “This will improve the efficiency of humankind.”

The innovative venture offers inspiration to think outside the box and push the limits of what’s been possible in city planning. The green, technology-driven infrastructure plan offers a new vision for the future.

This Sustainable Alternative to Leather is Made Out of Cactus:

A duo based in Mexico discovered how to create leather out of cactus — and it offers a unique, sustainable, plant-based vegan alternative to leather, an industry that produces significant waste, including environmentally toxic chemicals, pollutants, and heavy metals.

According to a 2019 study in “Energy from Toxic Organic Waste for Heat and Power Generation,” one metric ton of raw leather material yields only 20 percent as finished leather product and more than 60 percent as solid and liquid waste including the highly carcinogenic heavy metal “chromium.”

After years of researching ways to reduce environmental impact, Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez launched their luxury creation, called Desserto, in 2019 in Milan. Their creations are partially biodegradable and are useful for clothing and accessories, furniture, packaging, and even vehicle interiors. The “leather” can be made in a variety of thicknesses, colors,
and textures.

The material is made of the Nopal cactus, which is better-known as the prickly pear cactus. Only mature leaves are cut from the plant — without damaging the plant itself so it grows new leaves every six to eight months. The cactus also requires very little water and absorbs far more carbon dioxide than it generates, making the plant a practical and sustainable choice.

Most Europeans Plan to Fly Less Often and Eat Less Meat for the Climate:

According to a new survey from the European Investment Bank, a majority of European citizens intend to fly less and already eat less meat to help fight climate change.

Of 27,700 survey respondents in the EU’s 27 countries, 74 percent said they intended to fly less frequently for environmental reasons — even once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. 71 percent of respondents said they plan to choose trains over planes for short-haul trips.

In the poll, conducted in fall 2020, 66 percent of Europeans said they already eat less meat to fight climate change, and another 13 percent said they plan to do so soon.

These small changes — when done en masse — really do add up, and we need all the help we can get as we approach a point of no return in the climate crisis.

“Citizens feel the impacts of climate change, and they want the climate crisis to be addressed with unprecedented action,” EIB vice president Ambroise Fayolle told Reuters.

He said the EIB — the EU’s lending arm — could help people adopt environmentally-friendly habits by financing clean energy and low-carbon transport.

illustration by carra sykes

Satellites are Partly to Thank for Reducing Deforestation in Several African Countries:

In just two years, deforestation dropped by 18 percent in several African countries where organizations subscribed to warnings from a new service using satellites to detect decreases in forest cover.

The Global Land Analysis and Discovery system is available on the free and interactive interface Global Forest Watch. GLAD was launched in 2016 and provides frequent, high-resolution alerts when it detects a drop in forest cover.

Governments and others interested in halting deforestation can subscribe to the alerts and then intervene to limit forest loss.

Researchers set out to understand whether these kinds of alerts could achieve their goal of reducing forest loss, which has global climate implications. According to the research team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, land-use changes like deforestation account for 6 to 17 percent of global carbon emissions, and preventing deforestation is several times more effective at reducing carbon emissions than regrowing forests.

“Now that we know subscribers of alerts can have an effect on deforestation, there’s potential ways in which our work can improve the training they receive and support their efforts,” lead researcher Fanny Moffette told UW-Madison News.

illustration by carra sykes

These Women in the Climate Movement Will Give You Hope:

A new book by prominent women in the environmental movement will give you hope for a better future. The book “All We Can Save” is a collection of essays and poetry featuring nearly 60 women representing a range of perspectives, including women involved in climate change activism, science, and policy.

The book focuses on adding a feminine and feminist voice to the climate movement and reminds us that while climate change is a matter of business, policy, technology, and science, it’s also about building empathy and remembering that it’s our connectedness that makes the world worth saving.

The book’s title comes from a line by the late poet Adrienne Rich: “My heart is moved by all I cannot save” — a reminder that our hearts can also be moved by all we can save.

The book’s editors, marine biologist, policy expert, and conservationist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and writer and climate change activist Katharine Wilkinson, have extended their book into a newsletter so they can include a wider breadth of voices.

illustration by carra sykes

For the First Time in 130 Years, U.S. Renewable Energy Consumption Surpassed Coal:

A new report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration reveals that in 2019 U.S. annual energy consumption from renewable sources exceeded coal consumption for the first time since before 1885.

This finding is explained by a continuing decline in coal paired with growth in renewables, mostly wind and solar energy. Compared with 2018, 2019 coal consumption in the United States decreased nearly 15 percent. It was decreased for the sixth-consecutive year, and renewable energy grew for the fourth-consecutive year.

Coal’s dominance rose in the 1800s as fuel for steam-powered vessels and trains, plus steel production, before powering the electric industry. Although coal was once commonly used in the industrial, transportation, residential, and commercial sectors, 90 percent of it is now used by the electric power sector, with most of the remainder used by the industrial sector.

Today, wind and hydroelectric power dominate every energy sector, representing 56 percent of commercially delivered renewable energy for the electric power sector in the United States.

Solar Power is Changing Lives in Remote Villages:

For remote villages in Laos, reliable access to electricity is a monumental milestone. The fact that it’s renewable is just a bonus.

The villages of Ko Bong and Tha Phai Bai are sites for a major hydropower project that feeds renewable electricity to the national grid. But the communities are too remote to be connected to the grid themselves and haven’t been able to benefit from it. They’ve had to resort to diesel generators, which can be expensive, polluting, unreliable, and don’t provide enough electricity for everyone.

But now a community-run solar installation called a mini-grid offers the communities clean, reliable, affordable electricity apart from the main grid.

“Now, the darkness at night will disappear from our villages,” Seng Sommala, Ko Bong village chief, told the United Nations Development Programme.

Now the communities have the ability to turn on lights at night — children will be able to do schoolwork after dark, plus health centers will have access to reliable electricity, improving health care and saving lives. Life-threatening power cuts used to occur during operations, while giving birth, or tending to newborns. And now vaccines and medications that need to be refrigerated can stay cold.

“Light is not only light,” Teung, the chief of Thai Phai Bai village, told UNDP. “It is life, and a better life for us here.”

Illustration by Carra Sykes

Adidas is Launching Shoes Made Out Of Mushrooms:

Adidas just announced they’re making shoes out of mushroom “leather.” The material will join the brand’s line of animal-free versions of its iconic shoes, launched as part of the company’s
sustainability initiative.

“Adidas is developing a new material, a purely biological leather alternative made from mycelium, and will use it for the very first time in the creation of footwear,” the company announced.

Sustainable leather alternatives are only getting more and more popular, with celebrities such as Natalie Portman and John Legend investing. Stella McCartney, Lululemon, and other massive brands have also partnered with Bolt Threads, the company making the mushroom leather.

Adidas is also ramping up its use of recycled ocean plastic in place of environmentally damaging materials. Last year, the company produced 15 million pairs of shoes made from recycled plastic waste and aims to increase that number to 17 million in 2021. The company also aims for 60 percent of its product line to use recycled polyester and is currently developing recycled cotton.


A Startup is Turning Carbon into Gravel:

A startup in California is capturing carbon dioxide from factories and converting the greenhouse gas into gravel and other building materials.

The startup, Blue Planet Systems, is collaborating with Chevron, Chevron said in a statement in January. Blue Planet specializes in manufacturing and developing carbon capture technology to reduce carbon footprints.

Carbons emissions pose a threat to our planet because when carbon gets into the atmosphere, it damages the environment and contributes to global warming. Carbon capture is one of the most promising strategies for reducing the amount of carbon that gets into the atmosphere. So turning carbon into gravel is useful in two ways — reducing carbon emissions and creating building supplies.

It’s encouraging to see something positive coming from Chevron, a company that has grossly contributed to the climate crisis. According to the 2017 Carbon Majors Report, Chevron is one of 100 companies responsible for more than 70 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988.

While Chevron’s damage can’t be undone, massive corporations have to get on board with changes before we can begin to see significant healing on our planet. We’re eager to see more corporations support and fund innovative efforts like this one from Blue Planet.

Illustration by Carra Sykes

Norway Became the First Country to Sell More Electric Cars Than Gas-Powered Cars:

According to figures published by the Norwegian Road Federation last month, battery electric vehicles made up 54.3 percent of new car sales in Norway last year, making the country the first to have sold more electric cars than gas, hybrid, and diesel engines in a year.

The Norwegian government plans to ban the sale of gas and diesel cars by 2025 and is offering tax breaks and financial incentives to encourage the purchasing of more sustainable vehicles.  

In 2011, cars with diesel-only engines took up 75.7 percent of the Norweigen vehicle market but fell to 8.6 percent
in 2020.

“We’re definitely on track to reach the 2025 target,” Øyvind Thorsen, the chief executive of the Norwegian Road Federation, told the Independent.

If the trend continues — which it likely will — then Norway should reach their goal.

“Our preliminary forecast is for electric cars to surpass 65 percent of the market in 2021,” Christina Bu, who heads the Norwegian EV Association, told the Independent. “If we manage that, the goal of selling only zero-emission cars in 2025 will be within reach.”

Article Details

January 31, 2021

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