In many ways, 2019 felt like a monumental year, with sustainability and the climate crisis dominating the headlines, social media, and real-world conversation like never before.
From the perspective of someone deeply concerned about the future of our planet, it’s refreshing, But the scale and volume of problems we’re facing look bleak and insurmountable.
Whilst reflecting on the year gone by, I thought I’d gather what I see as some of the highs and lows of the climate crisis from 2019. I’ll start with the lows, so we can end on a high note!
1. Rolling Extreme Weather Events
Anything weather-related immediately becomes controversial, weather is changeable after all. But one thing is certain, the changing climate strengthens and prolongs extreme weather events, fire seasons and droughts, and 2019 was proof in point. There were so many different instances, but the following stood out to me:
- Hurricane Dorian, which stalled over the Bahamas with some of the highest sustained winds ever recorded.
- Torrential flooding that affected 11 million people across the midwest and southern United States.
- Raging bushfires in Australia have now burned through 3 million hectares and left scores dead. Not only that, but there’s still 2 months of summer ahead and no sign of them letting up in early 2020.
- Drought – I was going to highlight the droughts in Kenya, then Australia, or the US, then realised that in general…there’s droughts everywhere. So much so that it’s starting to feel normal.
2. Political Failure
If ever there was a time that we needed strong political leadership, it’s now. Unfortunately, 2019 had little to offer, and stood out as a major lowlight in my eyes. There are so many to choose from, but my standout political failures included:
- The COP25 climate summit left a bitter taste in the mouths of many. It’s now up to the UK during next year’s summit in Glasgow to try and draw consensus on a path forward to sustainability – a tall order given that the newly formed Conservative government will be focusing on brexit for the next few years.
- Trump officially pulled the plug on US participation in the Paris Climate Agreement. It’s a year long exit process that ends the day after the 2020 US election, so we best keep our fingers-crossed for a Democratic victory.
- The new Brazilian government, under Jair Bolsonaro, has spent its first year in charge fast-tracking the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. Not only have its policies directly lead to a marked increase in deforestation, Bolsonaro is spending his time pointing fingers and stirring up conspiracy theories rather than taking much needed action. Bonus tragedy: 500+ million bees have died in Brazil in 2019.
3. Cascading Ice-loss
One of the most consistently alarming topics of 2019 has been ice-loss. It felt like almost every other week there’s a new report showing that global ice coverage is declining faster and more widely than expected.
- The Siberian perma-frost is melting at an unprecedented rate, releasing methane that, in turn, further warms the climate and leads to more ice loss.
- Glacial ice melt in Greenland peaked at 4 million swimming pools worth a day during the summer heatwave, by the end of the summer we were left with 0.5mm of permanent sea level rise.
1. People Power
This year it felt like people were waking up and making their voices heard. Whether it’s activists organising protests, or tech workers meeting in chat rooms to create tools to fight the climate crisis, there’s change in the air. For me the stand out individuals and organisations are obvious:
- Without a doubt, 2019 belonged to Greta Thunberg. There’s a fair few people who find themselves baffled by her meteoric rise, but she has legitimately taken up a leading role as an activist and spokesperson for the environmental/sustainability movement – getting out there, making noise, changing hearts and minds, and genuinely waking up a generation to the crisis we’re facing.
- Extinction Rebellion‘s inexorable rise has been hugely important, if not at times controversial. There are now 800 chapters, across 70 countries, staging rolling protests and working to effect change.
2. The Power Of Tree Planting:
2019 was a big year for tree planting, with people finally focusing on the number one proven way we can capture carbon quickly and at scale. I’ve chosen 3 initiatives to highlight, the last one is a personal favourite 😉
- Ethiopia planted a mind-boggling 350 million trees in a single day! At first glance this number seemed ludicrous, but it’s well backed up, and just goes to show what can be done with the right motivation and planning.
- The Team Trees project really showed the pulling power of social media stars and a viral campaign, raising over $21 million by the end of the year.
- Last, but not least, there are plenty of more humble initiatives popping up, like my very own Target 2030 foundation! There’s a long road ahead, but we’ve already raised enough money to plant a lot of trees next year!
It might seem counterintuitive to highlight some huge projects alongside Target 2030, but there genuinely can’t be enough people and projects focusing on tree planting in the years ahead.
3. Oceans In Focus
Arguably the least highlighted ‘good news’ stories from the past year have related to our marine ecosystems. We’re not out of the trouble yet, but some of the hard work being undertaken by governments and organisations across the world is finally starting to bear fruit. There were multiple good news stories, but here were 2 I found particularly exciting:
- Humpbacked whale numbers have now recovered from 450 to 25,000, that aligns with a broader trend showing that 77% of endangered marine mammals have seen their populations grow.
- Boyan Slat’s Ocean Cleanup has achieved a major milestone by successfully completing their first pilot mission to clean up the great pacific garbage patch.