Last year was a remarkable year for action on climate change. Even one of the victories that happened in 2015 would have been a breakthrough. But there were many.
In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized the Clean Power Plan, the first-ever national limit on climate-changing pollution from power plants. President Barack Obama stopped the Keystone XL pipeline and canceled oil drilling leases in the Arctic Ocean, and Congress, surprisingly, renewed tax credits that will accelerate the growth of wind and solar energy.
There are 50,000 wind turbines in the U.S., producing enough electricity to power 19 million homes. The nation’s first offshore wind turbines are under construction off the coast of Rhode Island. A new solar project goes up every two minutes. The solar industry employs more than 200,000 people across the country, growing 20 times faster than the economy as a whole.
California and New York committed to reach 50 percent clean electricity within 15 years. Hawaii passed a law requiring 100 percent renewable power by 2045, and San Diego committed to 100 percent clean power by 2035 — the largest city in the country to take this step.
In Maine, both Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins voted in defense of Obama’s Clean Power Plan (Collins was one of only three Republicans in the Senate to do so), and this year, wind power reached the milestone of accounting for 10 percent of Maine’s total electricity production in any given month.
Bigger still, in December, practically every nation across the world committed to climate action when the Paris Climate Agreement was unanimously approved by 195 nations. The agreement gives us a clear path forward. Put simply, if it emits pollution, we need to replace it with new and better technology — such as zero-emission solar panels, wind turbines and electric cars.
Let’s be clear: walking this path will not be easy. The pledges the nations of the world have made to cut pollution are not yet adequate to achieve the goals of the agreement. The U.S. — and indeed every country in the world — will have to do much more to get the job done. We need every country, every state, every city and every community to dig in to solve this problem.
So as we start 2016, let’s make a resolution as Americans and Mainers to realize the promise of the Paris Climate Agreement.
Individually, let’s resolve to embrace clean energy in our own lives in 2016 and beyond, whether that’s improving the energy efficiency of our homes or looking into solar panels or a fuel-efficient car. But that won’t be enough on its own. We also need our elected leaders to take bold action. So let’s also resolve as a society to:
— Implement the Clean Power Plan by focusing on zero-emission energy resources, starting with energy efficiency and then looking to clean energy sources such as the sun and the wind. Moreover, Maine should aim higher and raise the bar. The targets for reducing pollution laid out in the Clean Power Plan are a floor for action, not a ceiling. We can do much more, faster, than the EPA is asking us to. So to our Maine legislators and Department of Environmental Protection: Let’s do it. Let’s make our state a clean energy leader.
— Ask Congress to focus on solutions, not obstruction. Opponents of climate action launched several failed attacks against the Clean Power Plan during the fall. It’s time for our leaders in Washington to focus on solutions, rather than slowing progress. Collins helped defeat attacks against the Clean Power Plan during the fall. We’ll need her to continue her support for a clean energy future to fairly represent Maine.
These are just two actions we can take along the way to returning to the 100 percent clean, renewable energy future and deep cuts in carbon emissions the climate crisis demands. As we begin the new year, let’s resolve to make it a year of hope — hope rooted in action on climate change. Together, we can create a better world for the future.
Caleb Greenawalt is a campaign organizer for Environment Maine.