You know what’s really hot right now? Yeah, it’s the entire world.
We kid, we kid. OK, the world is still hurtling toward an apocalyptic level of global warming, but we also made some interesting environmental headway this year. Climate was, dare we say it, trendy in 2018. From high-profile politicians championing a “Green New Deal” to dockless e-scooters invading car-loving cities across the country, green awareness seemed to hit the mainstream in a big way.
So are we at a turning point in our climate conversation? Or is burgeoning awareness just another flash-in-the-pan fad we’ll all laugh/cry about in 2019?
We asked a few Gristers to look back at the year that was and come up with a list of all the green trends that may or may not last the test of time. Don’t be shy about adding your own hot take on each issue by answering our — wait for it — POLLS below. Yes, power to the people in 2018, y’all (another trend!).
But first, a reminder of all the crazy shiz that happened in 2018
A LOT of things went down this year (but not the global average temperature … because that went up), and it’s tough to keep them all straight.
Remember Scott Pruitt? How could you not? Yeah, that guy was around for the first half of the year in a BIG way. The first-class upgrades, $43,000 soundproof phone booth, and systematic dismantling of the Environmental Protection Agency he was in charge of kept our newsroom humming (and also in a constant state of low-grade shock.) Pruitt bounced from scandal to scandal to unemployed when he resigned in early July. He was replaced by Pruitt 2.0, the former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler.
Not to be outdone by the EPA, the U.S. Department of the Interior (responsible for the management and conservation of most federal lands) had its own drama. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke quickly took the reins from Pruitt as the most scandal-plagued member of President Donald Trump’s cabinet. Zinke was both the face of Trump’s environmental rollbacks and the subject of several federal inquiries. He seemed to like his ethics the same way Alex Trebek likes his Jeopardy responses: questionable. Was anyone genuinely surprised when he announced his resignation this December? Don’t let those $139,000 office doors hit you on the way out.
2018 also gut-punched us with the scary reality of climate change-related disasters. We saw catastrophic flooding in the Midwest, a hurricane the size of North Carolina hit North Carolina, and another hurricane pummel the Florida panhandle just before the swing state’s midterm election. Not to mention that the world was boiling hot, and that California experienced the Camp Fire, the worst wildfire in state history, killing 86 people.
It was just plain bonkers. We can basically hum 2018’s throwbacks to the tune of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”: MeToo telling truth to power, kids take charge with Zero Hour, campaign ads with climate change, toxic algae getting strange; carbon taxes still a no, Brazil elects Bolsonaro, big reports make things seem scary, Meghan Markle wed Prince Harry; refugees and separation, U.S. is a holdout nation, U.N. probably broke your heart, Trump tweets something not that smart, wildfire, deer ticks, this Swedish teen could have the fix, AG Xavier Becerra, the Colorado’s running dry.
Is it stuck in your head yet?
We’d give this year a solid 6 out of 10 and are setting our sights on the new year, which, with any luck, will be the year climate change gets a massive kick in the pants. But fear not! We’ll be here to help you out and hold your hand through the whole goddamn thing.
Are we all caught up now? Oh good. On to the trends vs. turning points of the past year.
The year people actually cared about big climate reports
It was a landmark year for climate reports. In the fall, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s dire special report downward revised its “oh shit” global warming threshold to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), and the Trump administration’s 4th National Climate Assessment predicted catastrophic costs to Americans. Unlike other times that scientists have warned us about climate change, people seemed to actually pay attention.
Newly elected U.S. House Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez led a sit-in in Representative Nancy Pelosi’s office to demand Dems prioritize climate action. Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan said the media should cover climate change like it’s “the only story that matters.” CNN released a video debunking climate denier claims (using clips of climate deniers denying on their own network).
I’ve got not-so-great news folks: If you thought the IPCC report was daunting, those same scientists are gearing up for three more reports in 2019: one on oceans, one on ice, and one on land — which pretty much covers all the parts of the world in the process of breaking because of our addiction to fossil fuels.
On the bright side (no, really), that gives plenty of opportunity for activists and political leaders to use those reports’ messages to push for rapid societal changes. But as 2019 brings us one year closer to the future we fear — will people care enough to do something? Or are our attention spans (and our time on Earth) simply limited?
Cities were invaded by dockless scooters
2018 was the year everyone ditched their dockless bikes for … dockless scooters. This summer, the Grist video team explained the dockless bikeshare boom and hinted at the scooter-shaped glimmer we noticed in all the bikeshare executives’ eyes. (The scooter section starts at the 3:52 mark.)
Over the past year, Ford bought the now-former bikeshare company Spin, which completely pivoted to scooters. Uber and Lyft now both own scooter spinoffs. And the scooter company Bird hit 10 million rides in its first year of operation.
Many of these companies think scooters are more appealing than bikes. You don’t get sweaty, you can ride no matter what you’re wearing, and they might be less intimidating for non-cyclists, said Isaac Gross, a general manager at Lime, in an interview this summer. In cities where they’ve deployed scooters, Lime said it’s seeing higher bike ridership too.
Meanwhile, many cities — including Grist’s hometown of Seattle — still aren’t convinced that scooters are a good idea. Some residents in scooter-riddled cities have complained about the vehicles being left all over the place and view the scooters as vehicles of gentrification. In SoCal, people have reportedly tossed scooters into the ocean, burned them, and buried them.
Vegan options got so big, the meat industry got scared
It feels like 2018 was the year vegan protein substitutes kind of blew up. All of a sudden, plant-based faux-beef patties cropped up on the menus of fast food chains like McDonald’s, White Castle, and TGI Friday’s. Oat milk became the stealth seed juice du jour (mmmm seed juice), and dairy farms across the Northeast anxiously noted the shrinking cow’s-milk market.
Because this is America, some lawsuits were bound to break out. Both Big Meat and Big Milk — a most unholy union in any kosher household — showed up in court this year to challenge the viability of their newly threatening vegan competitors. (Watch our video below to find out more.)
We can’t wait to see what kind of vegan courtroom drama 2019 brings.
Everyone decided to sue fossil fuel companies
To reverse climate change, we have tried all kinds of techniques: protests, monkeywrenching, inventing new technologies, recycling, multinational conferences, more multinational conferences, and, of course, lawsuits. And in 2018, Americans took a slightly different approach — targeting the energy industry directly.
Ideally, you’d wanna sue the problem itself, but climate change doesn’t care if some judge holds it in contempt. In the past (and some of the present), suing over climate change has been about suing the government.
This year, however, the states of New York and Rhode Island, eight cities, and six counties sued fossil fuel firms for creating and hiding a problem that’s forcing local and state governments to build seawalls and fight forest fires. Even the crabbing industry joined in, suing more than 30 oil companies for contributing to seafood-depleting ocean temperatures.
But 2018 was also the year judges started throwing out these lawsuits. The reasons one judge gave go back to that initial problem of not being able to sue climate change itself. These lawsuits take aim at companies that have profited from fossil fuels, but they are hardly the only villains.
If everything goes the plaintiffs’ way in the appeals process, these lawsuits could bankrupt some of the biggest corporations in the world, but the history of oil suggests that dozens more would rise to meet the demand from the rest of us climate change profiteers.
We started taking the Green New Deal seriously
The hottest deal of 2018 is new and green. Get it? The Green New Deal is a comprehensive economic and environmental plan that would create thousands of jobs in clean energy, a big ol’ 100 percent renewable target, and a greener banking system. The Green New Deal basically gives a giant middle finger to people who say you can’t have both economic growth and environmental regulation, and it’s being championed by the pied piper of climate activists, Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Some advocates of this moon-shot plan say the Green New Deal represents the “civil rights movement” of our generation. Since it started circulating a few months ago, the deal has quickly amassed political fans. So far, 36 members of Congress want the House to create a select committee charged with writing a bill, and activists say more are sure to join when the 116th Congress starts up in January. Watch out, world: 2019 may just be the year of the deal.
Teens took charge of the climate movement
If existential crises were ever in vogue, teens have taken the experience to a whole new level. In 2018, teen activists increasingly took the lead on issues like gun violence, sexual harassment, and — you guessed it — climate change. From 15-year-old Swedish badass Greta Thunberg, who just made waves at the U.N. climate talks in Poland, to Zero Hour founder Jamie Margolin, who helped lead a teen march on Washington, D.C., young people are fighting for the future.
It might seem like these kids are too young to be taking over, but admit it: climate change poses a pretty big roadblock to basking in the fun and purity of childhood. It’s gotten to the point where some teen activists are even skipping school to fight the good fight.
Sure, it’s not the first time kids have stepped up on climate change and other big issues, but the stakes are certainly higher than ever. The teens of today also have a unique vantage point: They’ve lived with the reality of climate change and its increasingly obvious effects for their whole lives, and they’re going to shoulder the worst of the consequences.