Looking Back on 2011

December 23, 2011 | 11:23 pm | , President & CEO, The Climate Reality Project

© 2011 Flickr/Nigel Howe CC CC BY 2.0

2011 has been a complex year in the fight to solve the climate crisis. It began with great frustration following the failure to pass legislation in the U.S. to curb global warming pollution and the concomitant lack of leadership around the world. But we met this challenge with bold new resolve: to share the reality of the climate challenge in ways that ignite the moral courage in all of us to take action.

Although there is still much work to do, we have made progress. Over the course of the past year we have seen the pendulum begin to swing back toward broad support for climate solutions.

Instrumental in this shift were the numerous extreme weather events that occurred around the world and in the U.S. That is why any review of climate change in 2011 must start with extreme weather. Climate change has been happening for some time. But we are now seeing the impacts with our own eyes, in more places around the world than ever before – impacts like intense heat waves, flooding rains and extreme drought. In 2011, in the United States alone, there have been at least 12 extreme weather events that each cost more than a billion dollars. And a United Nations report published in November, finds that climate change is increasing our global vulnerability to many kinds of extreme weather events.

What does all this mean? It means the impacts of climate change are not a distant problem that we can wait to face and solve. This is a problem we need to deal with today because the consequences are close at hand.

This fall, here at The Climate Reality Project, we held 24 Hours of Reality, a worldwide live streamed event that connected the dots between extreme weather and climate change. We also held a presentation drive from September to the end of November where we received more than 2,000 requests for presentations in communities around the world on the science of climate change and how to solve the climate crisis.

Here are other notable achievements and developments that give us good reasons to be optimistic and to double down on our efforts to build support for change.

  • In Australia, a country where 80% of the electricity comes from coal, the Parliament passed a new law this fall to reduce carbon pollution.
  • Here in the United States, responding to pressure from grassroots activists, the Obama administration decided to delay the construction of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. That decision has prompted attacks orchestrated by the fossil fuel industry aiming to convince the President to back down on that decision. So far, the President is standing firm.
  • Public opinion is shifting once again in the United States toward an understanding that current events and climate science together are telling us that we have to act now. A recent poll from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press shows that 63% of Americans believe there is solid evidence that global warming is happening – up from 57% in 2009 and 59% in 2010. It is a modest increase, but public recognition is headed in the right direction.
  • Those who deny the science are being moved to the fringes. In fact, a prominent climate skeptic, Richard Muller, recently said in the Wall Street Journal “global warming is real.”
  • Significant positive action is also taking place in California – the state known for leadership on a host of critical issues – as the state’s regulatory process prepares to set a price on carbon.
  • The EPA and the Department of Transportation announced their joint proposal to set stronger fuel economy and greenhouse gas pollution standards for model year 2017-2025 passenger cars and light-duty trucks. The standards would set the fleet average at 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.
  • Thanks in large part to citizen engagement, the EPA just issued long-awaited national standards that will reduce mercury and other toxic pollution from coal and oil-fired power plants. Over 47,000 of our members joined the chorus of people who submitted comments demanding that the EPA take action.

© 2011 Flickr/UNClimateChange CC CC BY 2.0

While I am encouraged by the successes we have had in the past year, we must acknowledge that our accomplishments are not close to matching the challenge we face. The climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa were a perfect example. Yes, important progress was made in setting up systems to lay a foundation for further negotiations. In addition, the negotiators made progress in helping countries measure deforestation and finance forest conservation, including future funding from the private sector. But we have a lot more work to do – and fast. Our biggest priority must be to close the ambition gap between the public and our leaders.

Even though many people have come to see reality and have made the critical link between extreme weather and climate change, there is still a well-funded effort by polluters to deny that this crisis even exists. The system that protects fossil fuel interests and other polluters will not change on its own. Change must and will come from the bottom up.

Fortunately, grassroots momentum for action is building around the world. Our political leaders are still too far behind, and they will stay there until we demand the change that is needed. In 2012, we will work harder than ever to remove the doubt and reveal the truth about the climate crisis to catalyze urgency for bold action on climate change. Please join with us in 2012 as we build on our successes and continue to fight for a sustainable and healthy planet where solutions to the climate crisis are the work of all people and all nations.

Best wishes for a happy holiday season.