The first half of 2016 saw devastating events that have left many -including us- feeling pessimistic about the future of the U.S. and the world. However, since December 2015’s Paris Climate Agreement, there have been various environment-related developments that provide us with some hope that, at least in regard to making sure our world is liveable in the future, we are starting to move forward. Here are 5 inspiring signs that sustainability is gaining traction in the U.S.
- Chemical safety reform. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act is a much-needed chemical safety reform signed by President Obama in June 2016. Although most of the products we consume today contain chemicals, chemical safety law in the U.S. has been broken for decades and had not been substantially amended since it was signed into law in the 1970s…until now. This 2016 amendment, which received bipartisan support, makes more information about chemicals available and provides the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with more authority and support to regulate chemicals, allowing the agency to better protect human health from toxic chemicals. Moreover, major companies like Wal-Mart are asking suppliers to remove formaldehyde, triclosan and six other substances from their products, in an attempt to eliminate chemicals from household goods.
- All about renewables. The U.S. Energy Information Administration came out with their 2016 Annual Energy Outlook that paints the future of energy, and that future looks bright. Renewables are expected to surpass nuclear power by 2020 and coal by 2028, to become the second largest source of U.S. electricity generation after natural gas. The growth in renewable energy production is spurred by supportive federal and state policies and incentives, as well as the continuing drop in the cost of wind and solar. Governments and companies are increasing the use of renewables and setting aggressive goals, and some smaller cities and companies are already reaching 100% renewable energy. But small cities aren’t the only ones acting- larger cities such as San Diego and Salt Lake City have adopted goals to go 100% renewable, while the state of Hawaii and Google have also pledged 100% clean energy.
- Action to reduce food waste. Efforts to reduce the 40% of food wasted in the U.S. from production to consumption process are in full swing. Evidence includes proposed legislation that clarify the “sell by/use by/expires on” dates on food, as well as the Save the Food campaign that provides guidance and motivation for individuals to reduce food waste at home. Companies are also responding to the call to reduce food waste; for example, Starbucks has pledged to donate 100% of unsold food within the next five years.
- Climate change is a 2016 political issue. Individuals running for all levels of government are weighing in on climate change one way or another and climate deniers are being called out. In general, Democrats are rallying around the need to act on climate more than Republicans, but congressional and local Republican candidates are beginning to talk about climate change more. For example, in Florida (a state that has been known for its climate denying governor and senators), a bipartisan coalition of mayors wrote a letter calling for more climate-related questions in presidential primary debates. Although we haven’t heard many positive statements on climate action from the Republican presidential candidate, we are hoping that the Democratic nominee will help push this forward, considering more Americans (64%) now are worried a “great deal” or a “fair amount” about climate change (more than at any time since 2008).
- Appreciation for nature. National parks saw a record number of visitors last year: 307.2 million visits in 2015, just in time for the 100th anniversary of the U.S. National Park system in August 2016. A key part of sustainability is appreciating all the benefits that nature provides us, including not only the resources that we base our lives on, but also the peace of mind, adventure, and sense of belonging we experience when visiting these magnificent areas.
It is easy to be frustrated by some of the recent occurrences in the U.S. and around the world. Yet as evidenced by some inspiring signs, different aspects of sustainability are being embraced in the U.S., in various ways and by various actors. We hope that this momentum towards sustainability continues to grow in the U.S., as we still have a lot of work to do to make the systems that shape our lives more sustainable.