This Thanksgiving, people around the country are using the hashtag #ClimateThanks on Twitter to share who and what they’re thankful for in the fight against climate disruption. As director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, I have the great honor of working with people across the U.S. who are winning big climate victories week after week, and then seeing those wins add up to real progress on climate change. From that perch, here are five things I’m thankful for this year:
1. The volunteers, staff and allies from over 100 organizations who have worked to win the retirement of 155 existing coal plants and block the construction of 181 new coal plants, including a big recent coal retirement announcement by the Tennessee Valley Authority. Thanks to their efforts, U.S. carbon emissions are at their lowest level in two decades – and we’re just getting started.
2. The rise of clean energy. As coal plants retire and new market space opens up, wind and solar are breaking records every quarter as they rush in to fill the breach, and utilities are starting to see the light, making big investments in new clean energy projects. Some states are already getting more than 20 percent of their power from wind, which was the #1 new source of electricity on the grid in 2012. Just this October, solar energy was the sole new power source in the U.S.! Bottom line – the clean energy revolution is happening now.
3. The coal exports campaign. In the Pacific Northwest, an electrifying grassroots movement has come together to oppose six new coal export terminals designed to ship coal to Asia from the Powder River Basin. Over 10,000 people have turned out to public hearings in recent months, three of the terminals have been stopped, coal export opponents swept an important local election, and the Power Past Coal coalition has put the issue at the center of public debate in the region. A record number of comments were submitted on the proposals, too!
4. Overwhelming support for Environmental Protection Agency action on climate change – the photo at the top of this post is me celebrating great turnout on the bus to the Chicago EPA hearing. This fall, more than 2,000 people turned out at EPA listening sessions to support strong carbon standards for power plants, which are the number one source of the carbon pollution that’s wreaking havoc with our climate. These standards are the centerpiece of President Obama’s climate plan, and a draft is due out from the Environmental Protection Agency in June of next year. Industry will be pushing hard for a weak standard, so this outpouring of support is critical if we hope to get a strong standard across the finish line.
5. Powerful new messengers. From the student movement to divest from fossil fuels to the army of young people being mobilized by actor Ian Somerhalder and his foundation, one of the most inspiring things I’ve seen this year is the wave of powerful new messengers working to fight climate change. Many of their stories will be featured next spring in “Years of Living Dangerously,” the star-studded Showtime climate series that promises to be transformational in not only telling the most important story of our time, but also galvanizing people to action.
When it comes to climate change, we can’t afford to let ourselves be overcome by despair and helplessness – there is just too much at stake. Of course we all have a lot more work to do. But you don’t have to look far to find examples of regular people doing heroic things that add up to real progress in moving the carbon needle. What are your #ClimateThanks this holiday? Send me a Tweet @maryannehitt and I’ll help you spread the word – and the hope.