1. A bunch of kids won the right to sue the U.S. government for its role in climate change.
Twenty-one young Americans, aged 9 to 20, brought their case to an Oregon judge, claiming that the U.S. federal government is not adequately protecting them and future generations against climate change and that in itself is a violation of their basic constitutional rights. The Obama Administration, along with some representatives from the fossil fuel industry, filed motions to have the case dismissed. However, federal judge Ann Aiken denied their attempts and greenlighted the young activists to proceed to trial. The lawsuit is the first of its kind and has gained some serious momentum — climate scientist James Hansen has joined as a plaintiff on behalf of his granddaughter and Mary Wood, a law professor at the University of Oregon, is calling it “the biggest trial of the century.”
The outcome has the potential to completely rewrite U.S. climate policy and it will fall right in the lap of the incoming Trump administration.
2. Greenpeace became the first environmental organization to formally endorse Black Lives Matter.
Maybe the two movements seem unrelated on the surface, but they’re not. By publically endorsing the Black Lives Matter platform, Greenpeace is recognizing the existence of environmental racism and the fact that toxic industries are more commonly built near Communities of Color. The success of the environmental movement depends on all communities recognizing and addressing each other’s struggles and coming together for a “green and peaceful future.”
3. California became the first state in the U.S. to ban plastic bags.
In the United States alone, at least 12 million barrels of oil are required to manufacture the 30 million plastic bags that we use annually. And even when we recycle these bags properly, little bits of them, along with the chemical they’re made from, dioxin — often referred to as a ‘gender bender pollutant’ — leech into our earth, eventually making it into our drinking water, rivers, streams and oceans. In fact, 100,000 marine animals suffocate to death every year on our plastic shopping bags.
California was not the first place in the world to call bullshit on this when it passed Prop. 67 this past November. China, South Africa, Uganda, Somalia, Rwanda, Botswana, Kenya, Ethiopia — they’ve all had complete bans on plastic bags for awhile now. Back in 2012, when China’s ban was just 4 years old, the country reported that it had saved 4.8 million metric tonnes of oil from the measure, along with 800,000 metric tonnes of plastic.
4. A 21-year-old raised $2.2 million and used it to build a giant ocean clean-up machine.
The Dutch inventor, Boyan Slat, has had a specific design idea since he was a teenager. He basically wanted to create a gigantic (100 meters long) rubber boom, or barrier, that would use the natural currents of the ocean in order to pull floating garbage toward it. The garbage would then collect into an easy to deal with V-shaped cone. This past June, he got to test it out 12 nautical miles off the Dutch coast. From there, it’s going to be towed 45 kilometers into the North Sea in order to undergo a year’s worth of tests. The prototype will most likely collect a great deal of trash during this experiment, but the objective right now is to actually examine how the boom holds up in serious weather. Eventually, it’s going to be sent to theGreat Pacific Garbage Patch — the world’s largest landfill — where it will hopefully clean up at least half of the waste there within a 10-year period.
You can keep track of Slat’s progress by following The Ocean Cleanup.
5. Sweden ran out of garbage.
Sweden has known what’s up for awhile now. The country has such an effective recycling system that only 1 percent of household waste in Sweden ends up in a landfill. The rest is composted or turned into something else useful, like heat and electricity. Sweden uses the burned waste from its 32 waste-to-energy plants to provide electricity for 250,000 homes and heat for 20 percent of its district population. In fact, because the Swedish community is so conscious about recycling and composting, the country needs to import 800,000 metric tonnes of trash from the U.K., Italy, Ireland and Norway in order keep their plants running.
6. Chile passed a law holding companies liable for the waste generated by their products.
In June of this year, Chile passed a law that’s main focus is to cement the importance of recycling. The law requires businesses to publically report to the government on how they deal with waste and it holds them responsible for the waste their products create, from their ‘inception to [their] final recovery or elimination.’ That means plastic packaging, containers, lubricant oils, batteries, etc. are now a shared responsibility. It’s now in a business’s best interest to not overdo it on the bubble wrap. If you live in Chile, you shouldn’t expect to receive a pair of jeans double-wrapped in plastic and shipped in a box filled with styrofoam peanuts anytime soon.
7. Millennials in the UK proved that learning about our planet is more real than reality t.v.
The best stoner show to ever grace society, Planet Earth, aired its second season this year. And more young people, between the ages of 16 and 34, watched its first three episodes than some other show called the X Factor that apparently aired at the same time.
8. Scotland announced that it will build an eco-village for the homeless in 2017.
Social Bite, a sandwich chain in the U.K. that gives 100 percent of its profits to charity, will start construction on Scotland’s first-ever eco-village for the homeless in Edinburgh, in early 2017. The village is expected to house up to 20 people in 10 different tiny homes. The first residents will hopefully be able to move in by this summer. They’ll spend their first year living in a temporary environment, learning some new skills on-site, before moving into a permanent residence where they can gain employment at Social Bite itself or one of its partners. Social Bite estimates that each house will cost about £30,000 to build.
9. Google announced that it will run entirely on renewable energy in 2017.
The founders and leaders at Google are pretty public about the fact that climate change is a real and imminent threat to our planet, but that’s not the major reason they’ll be increasing their renewable energy usage from 44 percent to 100 percent in 2017. Renewable energy is just the cheapest option, the other stuff doesn’t really make sense anymore.
10. Through the power of its customers, Patagonia raised $10 million for underfunded, nonprofit environmental organizations on Black Friday alone.
Just a few days before Black Friday this year, Patagonia announced that it would donate the entirety of its web and in-store sales to grassroots organizations fighting for quality air, water and soil for future generations. The goal was to get about $2 million that day. Instead, records were broken and Patagonia was able to donate $10 million to a massive amount of organizations that are often struggling to survive. You can check out who benefited from your state here.
11. Thanks to China, we no longer have to pray that two giant pandas will eventually have sex.
If you’re a millennial or older, you probably remember the fate of the Giant Panda sweeping through the mainstream media. We could watch them eat bamboo over the Panda Cam, waiting for them to do something interesting like mate, for instance, or maybe even give birth to another member of their dwindling species. The world has really been pulling for the giant panda to survive and this year, the species was officially taken off the endangered list and switched to ‘vulnerable.’
A huge thank you is owed to China, who after decades of conservation work, have brought the panda population up to at least 2,060 in the wild. They did this by cracking down on poaching and restoring the panda’s habitat, bamboo forest, which had been rapidly overtaken by residential development and infrastructure.
There were quite a few wildlife wins in 2016, actually, you can check them out here.
12. Las Vegas became the largest U.S. city to run completely off of renewable energy.
As of December, everything in Las Vegas is powered by a green source of energy — street lights, slot machines, fountains, strip shows, everything. And the savings are being estimated at $5 million annually. San Francisco and San Jose are aiming to be next in the U.S.
13. The Standing Rock Sioux, along with thousands of allies and hundreds of U.S. veterans, convinced the U.S. Army to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Hopefully, you already know about this one. After standing their ground at one of the final building sites of a multi-billion dollar pipeline project in North Dakota, since April, the water protectors convinced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to seek an alternate route — one that doesn’t compromise the Lake Oahu, the tribe’s main source of drinking water. Even after this historic decision, water protectors are remaining on-site to see it through. Their perseverance and success have inspired similar movements across the country.
For more Matador coverage on Standing Rock, check out water protector Matt Koller’s work.
14. Newark, NJ passed an environmental justice ordinance, the first of its kind in the nation.
It’s called the Environmental Justice and Cumulative Impacts Ordinance and it’s meant to protect the Newark community against the health risks associated with pollution and allow them to fight for justice. The city is known for having the third-largest port in the nation, it has toxic waste sites and the largest trash incinerator in the Northeast. All of that is subjecting its community to serious health issues — asthma and cancer namely.
15. After 30 years of fighting, Blackfeet Nation got 15 energy leases canceled in Montana.
The leases would have allowed drilling in the Badger-Two Medicine Area, which is where parts of the Blackfeet’s creation story takes place. There were once 47 oil and gas drilling leases in this area, issued under President Reagan. However, almost two-thirds of them were forfeited after leaseholders were offered tax incentives to give them up. The 15 leases that were canceled this year by President Obama were owned by Devon Energy out of Oklahoma City. Now just two leases remain.
16. Tanzania stood up to elephant poaching.
President Dr. John Pombe Magufuli has ordered law enforcement to seriously crack down on the ivory trade and elephant poaching industry in Tanzania, stating that, “We are not going to allow our natural resources to be depleted.” According to the World Wildlife Foundation, the Selous Game Reserve alone has lost almost 90 percent of its elephant population. President Magufuli made his announcement in early November and within weeks at least 50 pieces of ivory were seized and several significant poachers were arrested.
17. The Mohawk tribe knocked down the Hogansburg Dam in upstate New York.
The Hogansburg Dam was the first commercial dam built on the St. Regis River and had been blocking the paths of salmon and sturgeon for a full century before the Mohawk people were successful in tearing it down.
18. We came together to create the world’s largest ocean protection plan, the Ross Sea off Antarctica.
Twenty-four countries and the European Union have reached an agreement on the plan and 1.5 million km2 will be protected. That means a bright future for species like the Adélie penguin, the Antarctic petrel and the South Pacific Weddell seal.
19. Colombia, Costa Rica and Ecuador came together to protect more than 83,000 square miles of ocean.
The three presidents met in the Galápagos back in September. In the name of the underwater “highways’ that allow marine life to migrate safely, Ecuador and Costa Rica agreed to abolish their national water boundaries and come together. Colombia has pledged to double the Malpelo Flora and Fauna Sanctuary, which is located 300 miles from its coastline. The Sanctuary is already more than 10,000 square miles and protects one of the world’s largest communities of sharks. The three nations together have increased their marine reserves to 83,600 square miles.
20. Two hundred countries agreed to work together to eliminate the synthetic chemicals in refrigeration.
It’s called the Kigali Deal, it was seven years in the making, and its sole focus is to eliminate chemical coolants called hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, that make up just a small percentage of greenhouse gasses yet have 1,000 times the heat trapping ability as carbon dioxide. The deal is aiming to eliminate 70 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere — that’s twice the amount of carbon pollution that’s produced annually, by the entire world.
21. The Paris Climate Accord was signed on Earth Day 2016.
It was signed by 194 UNFCCC members, 120 ratified it, and it actually went into effect on Nov. 4, 2016.
22. Washington State’s Lummi Nation successfully blocked the largest coal port ever proposed in North America.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed with the tribe back in May and refused to grant permission to the project, on the basis that it would infringe on the Lummi Nation’s fishing rights at Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve. The project would have welcomed huge ships into the port more than 487 times a year to unload and load coal on its way to Asia.
Oakland, California was also successful in banning a coal export terminal.
23. The voters of California’s Butte, Monterey and Alameda Counties banned fracking.
Butte’s ballot measure was approved by a landslide and it became the fourth California county to all-out ban fracking. Alameda County, although not subject to any fracking at the time, became the first county in the Bay Area to ban the practice. Monterey County, however, was the first county with a significant oil involvement to approve a ban. It’s now being sued by Chevron and Aera over the ban, called Measure Z.
24. Colorado legalized rain barrels.
For some reason, up until May 2016, it was illegal to catch and preserve rainwater in Colorado. Not anymore. Coloradoans can now use rain catchment systems to do things like wash dishes and cars, bathe or water their gardens.