Can 2023's climate catastrophes trigger climate action in 2024?
Solar for schools, oil and gas double down, and New Year’s resolutions
From the wildfire smoke choking our skies to the extreme heat putting peoples’ lives at risk just by attending a concert or a ballgame, 2023 wasn't only the hottest year on record: it was also the year it became undeniable that climate change is affecting us here and now. This heightened awareness is fueling a powerful urgency to act, and the good news is that solutions are all around us.
If you’re looking for a New Year's resolution that is do-able, can have a real impact, and will make you feel good, head on down to the “what you can do” section. I’ve got three solid suggestions for you!
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Solar is now the cheapest form of electricity in most countries around the world, saving people money that can be used for other important things: like teacher salaries.
Back in 2021, a school district in the small town of Batesville, Arkansas made headlines when it announced that it would raise its teachers’ salaries by up to $15,000 a year thanks to all the money it saved from putting in a solar array. Within a year, their school superintendent heard of at least thirty other school districts in the area that were doing the same.
In the last decade, schools across the U.S. have tripled the amount of solar installed on their campuses. One school in Heart-Butte, Montana took a unique approach with the money they saved. As Cara Buckley writes, “the school superintendent, Mike Tatsey, arranged for three-quarters of the energy credits generated by the district’s new solar panels to help lower the electric bills of households in the community, located on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. He believed that freeing up extra spending money for staples like groceries and shoes could have a ripple effect in classrooms."
“When they come to school, because of that little bit of extra hope we’re able to give, they’ll be ready to learn,” Mike explained. Isn’t that amazing?
It’s official: 2023 was the warmest year since human record-keeping began. One analysis from the Copernicus European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts put the average temperature at 1.48 Celsius above the 1850-1900 averagev, meaning it is the warmest year on record by a lot. July was the hottest month ever recorded, and thousands of high-temperature records were shattered around the globe, all the way through December.
More than three-quarters of the temperature increase is caused by burning fossil fuels – so of course that’s being phased out, right? Wrong. Oil and gas production in the United States hit an all-time high last year. And while the world burns, the five “super major” oil companies (BP, Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil and TotalEnergies) are set to pay shareholders record dividends of more than $100 billion for 2023, likely topping 2022’s record of $104 billion.
This is disheartening, and many climate campaigners agree. As Alice Harrison, a campaigner at Global Witness, says, “The global energy crisis has been a giant cash grab for fossil fuel firms. And instead of investing their record profits in clean energy, these companies are doubling down on oil, gas and shareholder payouts.”
It’s as if we can see the cliff ahead of us and instead of hitting the brakes, fossil fuel companies are stomping the gas pedal to the floor, convinced they’re impervious to gravity.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
It's the season for setting New Year's resolutions, and I've got three ideas for you. Why not give one, two, or even all three a go? Then, tell others about your experience and encourage them to join in!
First, as my friend health expert Ed Maibach says, “Make a resolution to discuss your support for climate solutions--like clean energy and clean transportation--more frequently with your family, friends, neighbors & co-workers. Doing so is good for you, them, and the climate.” (You won’t be surprised to hear that Ed is in my book, Saving Us. You can find him in Chapter 11.)
Second, look at where you bank. A new analysis reveals that if your bank lends to carbon-intensive industries, just $1,000 in your account could produce as much carbon as a flight from NYC to Seattle. That surprised even me!
Bank Green evaluates banks across many different countries. It will tell you how yours is doing, and suggest greener alternatives you might want to switch to. When I checked their list last week, they didn't include the small local bank we use. I submitted a request, and within a few days they got back to me with the bank's ranking!
Third, try out some new plant-based recipes to add to your regular meal schedule --this easy vegan curry is our new go-to-- or sign up for “Veganuary,” eating vegan for January. At the Veganuary website, you’ll find cooking guides, recipes, and they’ll even send you a free e-cookbook. According to Project Drawdown, which tracks over a hundred different types of climate solutions, plant-rich diets and reducing food waste are the two biggest ways to reduce household emissions.
Jonathan Foley is Project Drawdown’s executive director. Looking at climate progress this past year, he says he feels “more hopeful today than I’ve ever been, despite the fact the reality of climate change is becoming more and more clear.” I agree!