The environment is improving now – Multiple reasons
Nyquist, 14 – [Scott Nyquist, Director of McKinsey & Company, 4-24-2014, Cheer up! 5 ways the environment is getting better, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140429202027-53060352-cheer-up-5-ways-the-environment-is-getting-better] Jeong
There has been a lot of bad news about renewable energy technologies of late – even 60 Minutes joined the negative chorus, running a segment on the “cleantech crash.” It’s true that there has been a shakeout, and that hundreds of companies have indeed gone bust. But McKinsey notes that in important ways, the news is actually darn good. With prices falling, global wind installations have risen 25% a year since 2006, and solar 57%--healthy rates of growth by any standard. The International Energy Agency figures that renewables will account for almost 60% of new power generation in the OECD for the next few years. The better way to look at what is going on, argue the McKinsey experts, is to compare what is happening with renewables to the history of other new technologies. Cars, elevators, and semiconductors, for example, all suffered dramatic peaks and valleys before stabilizing. Cleantech is following the identical trajectory. The despondency over cleantech is another example of the knee-jerk pessimism too often associated with environmental issues. Doom-and-gloom can not only be wrong, as it is in this case. But it can also be bad strategy because it makes it seem like going to hell in a (hot) hand-basket is inevitable. And if something is hopeless, why bother trying to do anything about it? In fact, progress is definitely possible. We know this because we have seen (and are seeing) progress in many areas. Yes, there are challenges, and these matter. But there are also success stories -- and these matter, too, because they generate the can-do spirit that leads to change. Here are five: 1. Greenhouse-gas emissions in the US are declining: In 2012, the latest year for which statistics are available, the US accounted for 6,526 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e, the basic unit of greenhouse-gas accounting). That’s way down from the 2007 peak of 7,325, and almost the same as in 1994 (6,520), according to the Environmental Protection Agency. What happened? A few things. Recession cut into economic activity, and cars got cleaner and more fuel efficient. Another crucial factor: the conversion of coal plants to gas-fired, due to the gushers of shale gas that have flowed in the last decade. Gas is significantly cleaner than coal, emitting less per unit of energy, and since 2005, has displaced a significant share of coal generation. I’m aware of environmental concerns about shale. But it’s hard not to like the emissions trend. Consider: Coal accounted for 37% of electricity generation in 2012—and 74% of carbon emissions in the power sector. Natural gas, on the other hand, accounts for 30% of power, and just 24% of emissions. Can the US keep up the emissions progress? Maybe, maybe not. Early estimates are that emissions went up in 2013, due to slightly higher growth and a brutal winter. Still, getting back to 1994 levels is success, by any standard. 2. There has also been huge progress in US air quality: This is a much longer-running story, dating back to the Clean Air Act of 1970. The EPA has air quality monitoring stations all over the country, and the story they tell is stunning. Between 2000 and 2012, concentrations of carbon monoxide fell by 57%, ozone by 9%, sulfur dioxide by 54% and lead by 52% (and 91% since 1980). In California, there were 74% fewer “unhealthy days” in 2012 compared to 2000, according to state regulators. New York City’s air is better than it’s been for 50 years. All this is not only good for aesthetic reasons but for public health; bad air contributes to heart and respiratory disease. 3. There has been a global expansion in protected areas: As of 2011, there were almost 160,000 of these, twice as many as in 1996, according to the World Database on Protected Areas. They cover more than 12% of the earth’s land area and about 6% of the seas, or about 16 million square kilometers and 8 million square kilometers respectively. (Check out this cool tool to see who has what, where.) 4. Deforestation in the Amazon is slowing: That’s the word from the country’sNational Institute of Space Research; from 2009 through 2012, deforestation slowed every year. In 2012-13, however, it appeared to increase again (to 5,853 square kilometers), up 28% over the previous 12 months, but still only a small fraction of the bad old days of 2004, when the Amazon lost 27,000 square kilometers. From 2000 to 2012, Brazil cut forest loss in half. 5. Whales and tigers and bears: Oh my, good news on all fronts. Let’s start with whales: The humpback is back in Brazil, in a big way; the population has tripled in the last decade, to more than 10,000 (see one in action in this video). So is thesouthern right whale in New Zealand. The number of wild tigers in Nepal has risen more than 60% in the last five years, with increases in all the national parks. In early 2014, Nepal announced it had achieved“zero poaching of rhinos, tigers, and elephants” for the previous year.Bears are making a comeback in Europe, thanks to hunting restrictions and legal protections that have led to their numbers doubling; indeed, of 18 mammal and 19 European bird species studied, the populations of all but one had increased in Europe since the 1960s. “Conservation actually works,” notes Frans Schepers, themanaging director of Rewilding Europe in this video, which truly bears watching. “If we have the resources, a proper strategy, if we use our efforts, it works.” Again, perspective is required. Nepal still only has about 200 wild tigers, and the illegal wildlife trade and habitat loss remain urgent issues; many whale species are still in peril. But give humanity a pat on the back for getting some things right.