As we move towards the end of 2016, you might be forgiven for looking back on the year that was with a certain feeling of doom and gloom — particularly when it comes to the environment. These past 12 months have certainly seen more than their fair share of gloomy headlines; with reports of record high global temperatures, mass coral bleaching events and at least 10,000 species believed to have become extinct. What a year it has been!
But 2016 was not without its hopeful moments, and perhaps, even the seeds of optimism for the new year ahead.
Just one of 2016’s good news stories came from the heart of oil country, where the conservative Texas city of Georgetown made headlines for becoming one of the largest cities in America to receive 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources. “This was a business decision and it was a no-brainer,” said Mayor Dale Ross, when asked why he made the change. “I don’t have a degree in environmental science or anything, [but] seems to me that the wind and sun will be out in Texas for many, many years.”
Thanks to renewable energy projects like the one in Georgetown, 2016 will also be remembered as the year greenhouse gas emissions plateaued — even as economic output continued to grow. Data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) showed global emissions of carbon dioxide have remained essentially flat throughout the entire year. Some had speculated that cutting emissions would come at the expense of global economic growth, but in fact, IMF figures suggest the global economy grew during 2016 at a rate of more than 3 percent. It seems 2016 will be one of the first years in human history where economic growth decoupled from greenhouse gas emissions — a significant achievement!
And 2016 was not just about human achievements. This year will also be fondly remembered by the Giant Panda, which was finally declared 'not endangered' after a century-long battle against extinction. The plight of the Giant Panda has long held special significance to the conservation community, with the panda adopted as the official symbol for the WWF in 1961. More than 50 years later, in Sept. 2016, the status of the Giant Panda was finally downgraded from ‘endangered’ to ‘vulnerable’ on the global list of species at risk of extinction — a big win for biodiversity!
In celebration of these unsung success stories, the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. will also host the world’s first-ever Earth Optimism Summit, scheduled to coincide with Earth Day, on April 22, 2017. They’ve even launched a special hashtag, #EarthOptimism, to track these positive case studies on social media — and to provide a source of optimism if the year’s end gloom creeps into your new year’s celebrations.
The year may be ending. But the earth, it seems, is still hanging in there.