Top 10 Glass-Half-Full Climate Stories for 2009-2010

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Mike Sandler Political economist, climate change professional and sustainability advocate

I enjoyed Arianna's funny Things to Forget from 2009 . But for people like me, who are really focused on (obsessed with?) climate change, we're so desperate for some positive news. Every day we've been watching the science of climate change get bleaker. Years pass and New Orleans still struggles to rebuild, the Senate barely functions, deniers' attempt to distract us with leaked emails, and the media still covers climate change as if it were an abstract theory, not something that is occurring right now that needs an immediate WWII-type mobilization. Then, after years of anticipation, the big outcome in Copenhagen was that President Obama got China to shrug ambivalently at a scrap of paper with no targets, proving that twenty years of UN talks have resulted in basically nothing. Get ready for purple oceans and toxic green skies.

But wait, the cup is not totally empty. Cities and states are taking action. All kinds of people around the world, not just enviros, are far more aware of climate now than they were five years ago. And green is hot.

And so without further ado, and with a rare optimistic bent (but avoiding the overused word "hope"), here are my Top 10 reasons for positive thinking on climate change in 2010:

1. During the week of Copenhagen's failure, Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced the Carbon Limits and Energy for American Renewal (CLEAR Act). Unlike the House-passed Waxman-Markey ACES bill that is loaded down with offsets and giveaways, the CLEAR Act is based on Cap & Dividend, auctions 100% of permits to companies, returns 75% of revenues back to consumers, and has the potential to break the Senate's climate lobbyist logjam. Some ACES supporters have been reluctant to change horses, but the CLEAR Act is a big step forward for national climate policy.

2. In California, implementation of the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32) is moving forward. A panel of experts and economists on the Governor-appointed Economic and Allocation Advisory Committee (EAAC) is about to issue a report, which shows great progress in understanding the design elements of a carbon market. The EAAC draft report even mentions dividends favorably.

3. A few years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that carbon dioxide (CO2) is a pollutant. Now the U.S. EPA has made an endangerment finding, and can start the regulatory process. Of course, it could get bogged down in litigation and delays, but it could shift the momentum and make the deniers and folks like Exxon play defense for once.

4. Obama's EPA granted a waiver for California's Pavley clean car standards to move forward, killing the automakers' lawsuit, and finally raising the CAFE fuel efficiency standards that had been in suspended animation since the 80's.

5. Only a few years it was unthinkable, but going into the new decade, President Obama is in the White House, the Democrats control the House, the Democratic caucus has 60 Senators, and includes Al Franken. (Just trying to rekindle some of that 2008 election optimism.)

6. One of Obama's first climate victories was including billions of dollars from the economic stimulus bill to go toward local energy efficiency. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy's (EERE) was designated to receive $16.8 billion, including $5 billion for the Weatherization Assistance Program, $3.1 billion for the State Energy Program, $3.2 billion for Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants, $454 Million for retrofit ramp-ups in energy efficiency. This is real money!

7. Hummer went bankrupt and had to leave the country. Take that, fake patriots who are endangering our country's national security with 8 mpg militaristic vehicles! And fie on General Motors in general until they make a decent hybrid and I actually see Chevy Volts on the road.

8. The Cleantech sector is a bright spot in an otherwise sluggish economy. Cleantech continues to attract venture capital. Just think how much this sector will take off when we have a carbon price through CLEAR Act (see #1 above).

9. For climate organizing, let's hear it for and some great youth organizing here and here.

10. Finally, for individual awareness and actions people can take on their own, Jonathan Safran Foer's book stirred up the vegetarian discussion.

Runner up:
The Obama Administration will start up real sex education again, not that ineffective Bristol-Palin-style abstinence stuff from the Bush years.

Phew, I feel much better now.

Of course, I can't resist my own 10 bad things from 2009:
Joe Lieberman, Glenn Beck, 40 filibustering Repubs, the Dreaded Baucus, Obama's Nobel Peace Prize/Afghanistan war, Guantanamo is still open, the continuing Goldman Sachs bonuses, the sad compromised health care bill (is that the best we can do, and do we have to wait another 80 years to get anything more?), Prop 8 (c'mon folks, we need marriage equality), and finally the fact that Sarah Palin is still in the news.

But don't let that get you down. All 10 of these downers put together are still less bad than either Cheney or Rumsfeld alone, so really, 2009 wasn't that bad, and let's stay positive for 2010. Cheers!