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Anything Good Happening on the Environmental Front?

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MALIBU, CA – NOVEMBER 09: The Woolsey Fire approaches homes on November 9, 2018 in Malibu, California. About 75,000 homes have been evacuated in Los Angeles and Ventura counties due to two fires in the region. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

2018 has been a horrifying year for anyone who cares about the environment. If you are honest with yourself, you know that your children and grandchildren are going to live worse lives than you are. But if you want to try and hold on to some level of optimism, here are some things you can point to:

Democrats flipped the House in November, and a slew of environmentalists joined Congress. That includes newly elected representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who spent her first day on Capitol Hill lobbying Nancy Pelosi for something called a Green New Deal. Voters also elected lower-profile climate champions in the midterms, such as Sean Casten. The incoming representative worked in renewables (and used to write for Grist) before flipping his Illinois district.

That’s not all: Climate-friendly Democrats also won big at the state level. In New York, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, New Mexico, and Nevada, they achieved something called a “trifecta” — when one party wins control of the governorship, state Senate, and state House. It’s basically the best situation you can find yourself in as an elected official who actually wants to accomplish something during your time in office.

It’s been a big year for clean energy pledges. The Sierra Club’s Ready For 100 campaign encourages cities to go 100 percent renewable and tracks their progress over time. Since the campaign was established in 2015, 102 cities have joined — and 45 of them, plus Washington, D.C., signed on this year alone. Cincinnati, Denver, and Minneapolis are among the trailblazers paving the way for a greener planet.

Many of these cities are aiming to make good on their clean energy promises by 2030 or even earlier! That’s a pretty big deal, especially considering that the Trump administration decided to opt out of the Paris Agreement. It’s pretty clear that local leaders across the U.S. are still committed to the goals laid out in that landmark accord.

You know who else has been courting a greener future? The courts! 2018 has been the year of the climate change lawsuit. Two cities in California let loose with a climate liability lawsuit against major polluters back in 2017, and a bunch of other places have jumped aboard the lawsuit train over the course of this year: Boulder, Colorado; New York City; Richmond, Virginia; King County, Washington; the state of Rhode Island; and most recently, Baltimore.

2018: Year of the Carbon Tax? Well, almost. So far, there aren’t any existing carbon taxes in the United States, but momentum to pass one grew significantly this year at the federal and state levels.

Members of the Climate Solutions Caucus — a bipartisan group in the House of representatives — proposed not one but two carbon pricing schemes. First, Carlos Curbelo, a Republican caucus member from Florida, proposed a price on carbon this summer. It quickly failed, and Curbelo lost his seat in the midterm elections soon after.

Here’s another good news trend for ya — companies that want to build massive oil and natural gas pipelines ran into some roadblocks this year.

Activists have been protesting TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline project, which would run from Canada to Nebraska, for decades. When President Trump made good on one of his campaign promises by approving the project in his first months in office, folks feared their efforts had been in vain. Not so fast! Federal Judge Brian Morris, appointed by Obama, ruled in November that Trump had failed to consider climate change when he approved the pipeline. The administration has to come up with a new environmental analysis that considers how the pipeline will affect the planet before the project can start moving again.

Divestment? You got it. Students led the charge in 2018 to get their academic institutions to quit putting money in fossil fuels. Most recently, Harvard faculty and students petitioned the administration to divest its $39.2 billion endowment from dirty fuels. And in early December, Yale students staged a sit-in to protest the university’s investments in Big Oil and fracking companies. Dozens of students were arrested during the protest, including this author’s little brother.

This trend isn’t cloistered in Ivy League institutions. The entire Republic of Ireland is divesting! A bill passed with all-party support in July compels the country to sell off its investments in coal, oil, peat, and gas ASAP, making Ireland the first nation on earth to pull its assets out of fossil fuels. Ireland wields an $8 billion national investment fund (not exactly on par with Harvard’s endowment, but every bit counts!).

So, OK, I guess. You have to keep fighting. What other option do we have?

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