The best and worst news for the Earth

Slide show: From high-speed rail to the grim figures on global warming, we look at the year's highs and lows

Topics: Earth Day, Environment, Global Warming, Slide Shows, slideshow,

The best and worst news for the Earth

As far as the environment is concerned, the past year will bear two mantles above all: the Year of Obama and the Year of Copenhagen. Greens cheered as the Obama administration threw U.S. environmental policy into a near-180: A vigorous EPA halted plans for dirty coal mines, administrators and legislators moved to regulate greenhouse gases, Obama set a tough fuel economy standard to 35.5 mpg by 2016, and clean energy got its biggest-ever funding boost from the stimulus bill. The specter of Bush’s environmental policy — if you could venture to call it that — was chased from the rafters.

And then, of course, there was Copenhagen, which loomed throughout the year as a hope that nations around the world could negotiate a deal to head off the incoming environmental crisis posed by climate change. We all know how that worked out.

Though it occurred through various lenses, the past year was essentially a year spent coping with global climate change. As you’ll see from these, the best and worst environmental developments, it may either come to be seen as the year the world took on climate change and failed, or the year we got the ball rolling.

Brian Merchant covers climate and politics for TreeHugger.com, writes a column about Getting Samy Out of Burma for GOOD, and has contributed to Paste, Motherboard.tv and many others. He lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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Brian Merchant is a freelance writer and editor in Brooklyn, NY. His work has appeared in Slate, GOOD, and Paste, and he's a contributing editor for Treehugger.com. He's currently working on a book based on his column, Getting Samy Out of Burma.

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    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

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    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

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    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

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    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

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    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

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    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

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    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

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    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

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    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

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    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

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    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

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