Anyone covering Louisiana’s battle for coastal survival, which includes its risks from climate change, will invariably come up against this criticism: “Hey, don’t you ever report good news?”
I get it. While honest reporting — especially over the last year — had to focus on the stream of new research and evidence proving our challenges are growing ever steeper, it made some readers feel punch-drunk. They wondered: Why bother?
Well, my bad. Because scattered between those many alarming headlines was an increase in positive news from state and local governments as well as market forces. To be clear, while voluntary contributions are critical to any measure of success going forward, ultimate success also cannot be accomplished without timely and forceful government action. Which is why the last four years of retreat driven by President Donald Trump have been so costly and must be quickly reversed.
And while the state’s coastal protection and restoration plan continues to march forward, that cannot find enduring success if the emissions-driven acceleration in sea levels is not addressed. Just as we can’t have coastal protection without wetlands restoration — we can’t have either of those long-term without reducing warming.
My vote for the most important good news last year for both crises were opinion polls showing the great majority of Americans now agree climate change is real, is being driven by us humans, and must be swiftly addressed. In June a Pew Research Center poll found two-thirds of Americans wanted government to do more on this threat, including regulations to reduce carbon emissions from power plants and cars, place a tax on carbon emissions produced by industry, plant trees to increase carbon sinks, and develop engineering solutions like carbon capture. Even a majority of Republicans said the issue was real and serious, and supported many of those measures.
Any of these changes will initially involve costs and adjustments to life routines that politicians won’t support unless their constituents approve. This change in attitude can be mined by climate activists to show policymakers their voters are behind them.
It isn’t a coincidence that this change in attitude coincided with what experts think was the costliest year ever for weather-related catastrophes. NOAA estimates wildfires, floods and a record number of hurricanes contributed to more than $300 billion of damages. Climatologists tied all of those events to warmer ocean and atmospheric temperatures.
Another major positive story for climate and coastal advocates was the steady march of local and state governments to join the effort to reach zero carbon footprints over the next 30 years. Twenty-four states, including Louisiana, have carbon reduction policies in place or under study, and dozens of cities are moving to reduce emissions from their public transportation and public vehicles fleets.
Just as important, but also fueled by the rising social demand for change, are developments in the free market. The success of electric car pioneer Tesla has driven the world’s largest car manufactures to speed up e-car development. Ford sold out of its planned first run of its new electric Mustang before it even began production began. And its iconic, industry-leading F-150 pickup introduces an electric version this year, with GM following before 2025.
This social-driven market awareness of the climate threat has also moved into finance. The campaign for institutions, including businesses, to divest from fossil fuel development started at liberal college campuses and has reached Wall Street. Trump’s decision to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling prompted five major U.S. banks as well as investment giants Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Citi to refuse investing in any companies taking him up on the offer. It is estimated that more than 1,300 institutions including businesses, have now pulled out more than $14 trillion from fossil fuel producing activities.
So, yes, there has been good news. And, yes, I’ll do a better job of letting you know about it because change starts with you.
Bob Marshall, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Louisiana environmental journalist, can be reached at [email protected]