It was a year of frightening reports on the future of our planet. But sustainability experts are still feeling optimistic about some of the strides we’ve made this year.
In 2018, we learned from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that we have around 30 years to fully decarbonize or risk widespread global devastation from warming and sea-level rise. We also learned that current emissions patterns are nowhere near in line with that goal. Even though the Trump administration tried to bury the U.S.’s own findings on climate, the 1,656-page National Climate Assessment backed up the IPCC report, and called for a doubling down on climate protection policies to prevent damage (which is already underway) to the environment and the country’s infrastructure.
The consensus among scientists, researchers, and sustainability experts following this years’ reports is that while stopping climate change will require an undoubtedly Herculean effort, the biggest hurdle is political, not technical. In other words, if all the innovations in sustainable technology and science were harnessed and directed at reducing emissions and environmental collapse, we might stand a chance at meeting the goals laid out in the reports.
Don’t get us wrong: It will take a heroic, global effort if we’re even going to come close to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius–the point after which, according to the reports, large swaths of the planet will become uninhabitable, and issues like mass starvation will become widespread. And the lack of leadership from the United States, under climate change denier Donald Trump, is making cohesive political action difficult.
But underneath all this, activists, scientists, and business leaders are working to advance progressive climate action, and despite everything, have hung onto a sense of optimism as we move into 2019. Here are some reasons why:
1. We Have the Potential to Radically Shift the Way We Eat
On the heels of the IPCC report, the World Resources Institute released research tracking global meat consumption, and found that food production, especially animal agriculture, accounts for around a quarter of all emissions. It’s the single-largest driver of climate change. This makes a pretty compelling case for wide-scale adoption of vegetarianism and veganism, but far more importantly, should clue in food distributors, like restaurants and grocery stores, that they need to change their offerings. That’s already happening. This year, the plant-based Impossible Burger started appearing everywhere from airline menus to fast-food restaurants, and is preparing to launch in grocery stores. Just, another startup, is growing real meat in bioreactors, which dramatically reduces emissions and the environmental footprint of meat production. It’s possible, now, to imagine a future where factory-farm-produced meat is replaced by plant-based versions, or meat grown in labs.
2. We Can Grow More Food Without Damaging the Environment
“Over the last century, we’ve relied heavily on fertilizer to meet the food demands of a growing population,” says Karsten Temme, CEO of the startup Pivot Bio. Fertilizer is most commonly made from synthetic nitrogen, which is easy to produce and distribute, but releases a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Synthetic nitrogen alone is responsible for around 5% of global warming. Next year, Temme’s startup will begin delivering a new, natural alternative to synthetic nitrogen fertilizer to farmers. Pivot Bio’s product consists of natural, nitrogen-producing microbes that adhere to plants’ roots, supporting plant growth while eradicating the need for environment-damaging synthetic versions. Especially as populations grow and land constricts due to climate change, well-fertilized crops will be necessary to meet food demands. MORE