Top 10 green stories of 2010
United we sand
Republicans stampede toward climate denial
Like creationists in Kansas, nearly every Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate this year — and half of all Republicans who’ll be in the U.S. Congress next year — dispute the scientific consensus on climate change. Even John McCain, who just two years ago ran for president on a platform of climate action, got all denial-y this year. It’s like evolution … but backwards!
(Also check out the top stories of the year for climate hawks.)
ACES way down in the hole
Climate bill dies
A climate bill passed the U.S. House in summer of 2009, then died a gory death of a thousand paper cuts in the U.S. Senate this year. After the Tea Party Triumph of 2010, don’t expect a resurrection anytime in the next two years. Senate hate, anyone?
(Cap-and-trade runner-up: While Congress wanked, California plunged ahead to create the largest carbon-trading market in the U.S.)
Depends what the meaning of “goes” is
Bill Clinton goes (near-)vegan
Bill Clinton, notorious fast-food junkie, may have turned over a new green leaf. Inspired by daughter Chelsea and, um, the medical profession, Clinton now follows a plant-based diet, with just occasional fish thrown in. (He’s the first pescatarian president!) Meanwhile, influential Brit columnist George Monbiot, who had previously argued that veganism was the only ethical diet, did a 180; inspired by the book Meat: A Benign Extravagance, he now argues that there are ethical ways to raise and eat meat, though industrial animal farming is still an abomination.
(Check back in January for a Grist “Food Fight” series on this contentious topic: to meat or not to meat? And if you’re a conscientious carnivore who would want to contribute your perspective to the series, send an email with links to three writing samples to Food Editor Bonnie Powell.)
California kills Prop 23
Big Oil tried to overthrow the most aggressive climate law in the nation, California’s Global Warming Solutions Act. The result? Epic fail. More than 61 percent of voters told Big Oil to take their mess back to Texas.
(California runner-up: Golden Staters also elected Governor Moonbeam, whose clean energy platform is so ambitious it’s almost worthy of a conservative in Europe.)
Shanghai and mighty
China kicks ass on cleantech, frightens American xenophobes
Red menace? Try green menace. China is shoveling money into renewable energy, seizing No. 1 status in wind power and green investment potential, while shutting down thousands of old, polluting power plants and factories. Chinese manufacturers pumped out 66 percent of the world’s solar panels this year, and a Chinese company has even made a ballsy move into the U.S. solar space. Not that it’s a competition or anything. But if competition wakes U.S. conservatives up, then … look out! China! Booga booga!
Plug and play
Electric cars roll out to the masses
Hear that bugling? That’s the frenzied fanfare for the all-electric Nissan Leaf and the plug-in Chevy Volt, both of which are officially hitting the roads this month. Let the drag race begin! But for those who like to burn money while they’re not burning oil, the Tesla is still the shit.
Play “Freebird,” man!
Franzen’s Freedom makes green literary
Novelist Jonathan Franzen made a splash (think massive cannonball) with Freedom, which was lauded as the “great American novel,” “best book of the year,” “galvanic,” “exquisite,” and “a work of total genius.” What many of the big-shot critics and tastemakers failed to mention is that the book is also “environmental.” Franzen gave Grist the exclusive scoop on the green themes in his book, which include overpopulation, mountaintop-removal mining, and the menace of bloodthirsty house cats.
(Green-fiction runner-up: Solar by Ian McEwan, about a loathsome Nobel-Prize-winning-physicist-turned-cleantech-entrepreneur-and-climate-crusader.)
Go with the blow
Big-ass wind project launched for mid-Atlantic coast
A ginormous wind-power-and-transmission project has started taking shape (figuratively so far) off the East Coast of the U.S., backed by piles of cash from Google and other bullish investors. The Atlantic Wind Connection will stretch 350 miles from northern New Jersey to northern Virginia; if all goes well, the first phase will be up and running by 2016. Once the whole thing’s done, it will bring online as much as 6,000 megawatts of new offshore wind energy — enough to power up to 2 million homes, or 31 gazillion iPads. “Game changer” may be the most overused term of 2010, but this might legitimately qualify.
(Offshore-wind runner-up: Cape Wind finally got federal approval.)
Don’t spill your seed
Monsanto goes limp
For about a decade, Monsanto swaggered around the ag scene — wowing Wall Street, conquering the Corn Belt, and appointing itself the sole option for feeding a climate-changed, overpopulated world. What a difference a year makes! In 2010, the GMO-seed giant finally had to acknowledge its seeds led to the rise “superweeds,” and farmers are pissed. Its trumped-up yield claims have sparked an investigation by the state of West Virginia, and the Justice Department is looking askance at its anti-competitive practices. Meanwhile, Wall Street has abandoned the company, which has been called “the worst stock of 2010,” and some critics (like our own Tom Philpott) are speculating that Monsanto’s real trouble is fundamental: its technology is flaccid.
(Also check out the top scary food stories of 2010.)
BP oil disaster
Photo: Lord MariserForget 2010: The oilpocalypse in the Gulf was the biggest U.S. environmental disaster ever. The gusher gushed from April to July, spewing about 5 million barrels of oil and making the Exxon Valdez look like spilt cappuccino. Then everything changed. And by everything we mean nothing.
(Fossil-fuel-tragedy runner-up: The Upper Big Branch Mine disaster killed 29 coal miners in April, the most compelling evidence yet that Massey Energy’s soon-to-be-former CEO Don Blankenship is an evil bastard.)