THE BLOG
11/26/2014 08:44 pm ET Updated Jan 26, 2015

10 Advances for the Environment I'm Grateful For This Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving week I'm reflecting on 10 advances environmental advocates and organizers have won this year for a cleaner, greener healthier future. There's a lot to be thankful for -- from historic progress on climate to groundbreaking environmental laws that can serve as a model for the rest of the nation. Behind each of these accomplishments was grassroots activism, engaged citizens, and committed individuals who just didn't give up; and it's that kind of people power that I'm most grateful for this holiday season.

1. Action on Climate. President Barack Obama is clearly staking part of his legacy on action to solve the climate crisis. To wit, his Environmental Protection Agency proposed the Clean Power Plan in June, the largest step the U.S. has ever proposed to cut global warming pollution. This month he announced an historic agreement with China to cut greenhouse gas emissions. We can't avert climate catastrophe with only these steps, but without them we're not even close.

2. Biggest step for clean water in over a decade. Since 2006, a pair of polluter-driven Supreme Court decisions has left 2 million miles of rivers and streams -- more than 60 percent of American waterways -- without guaranteed protections under the Clean Water Act. In March the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed to change that once and for all. More than 800,000 Americans have commented in favor the long-awaited proposal.

3. New York is still frack-free. Since 2008, growing numbers of activists and New York towns have pushed state leaders to reject this dangerous drilling practice. Gov. Andrew Cuomo hasn't yet acted definitively, but the fact that he's delayed the decision on fracking this long is a testament to the determination of all those who want their drinking water to remain nonflammable.

4. Fracking banned in the belly of the beast. In more encouraging fracking news, on November 4 fracking bans were approved in four localities, including ground-zero: Denton, TX.

5. Amazing landscapes -- and seascapes -- safeguarded forever. Using the Antiquities Act, President Obama has protected the jagged peaks of New Mexico's Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks from development; expanded the California Coastal National Monument to include the wetlands, trails and beaches of the Stornetta Public Lands; ensured that the San Gabriel Mountains in southern California will provide wildlife habitat and a place to hike, camp, and fish for generations to come; and created the largest marine preserve in the world. Not too shabby for one year.

6. Stopping Tar Sands. Twice Big Oil eked out a victory against citizen activists working to stop an ExxonMobil tar sands terminal in Maine, but the third time and an awful lot of hard work was the charm for environmentalists in July, when the South Portland city council voted overwhelmingly to block the terminal.

7. Bag, banned. Nothing we use for a few minutes should pollute the environment for hundreds of years. Yet plastic outweighs plankton 6 to 1 in some parts of the Pacific, and still-composed plastic bags have been found in the bellies of whales and sea turtles. More than 100 California communities had already banned single-use plastic bags; the entire state followed suit this fall, the first in the country to do so.

8. Meet George Jetson. The cars aren't flying yet, but they are, increasingly, 100 percent electric. California passed a law in September to require 1 million electric cars on the state's roads by 2023. Earlier in the year, eight other states adopted their own rules to ensure the deployment of more than 3 million electric cars, which are 50 percent cleaner than conventional cars, even when you consider that our power grids aren't yet much fueled by clean, renewable energy.

9. Speaking of wind energy. It's tripled since 2008, and this year saw real progress toward the first U.S. offshore wind farm, now scheduled to be built in 2015.

10. And don't forget solar. Solar's costs have been declining rapidly, and now they are competitive with the cost of power generated by coal, oil, and natural gas. That helps explain why solar has grown 77 percent in the last three years alone. In the first half of this year, solar made up more than half of all new installed energy capacity, bringing us ever closer to the 100 percent clean renewable energy future we deserve.