But there are just as many reasons for environmentalists to be optimistic, Jonathan Chait argues in a cover story for New York magazine’s Sept. 7-20 issue, published online Monday.
Chait does not downplay the significance of the challenges our planet faces as world leaders prepare to meet for a United Nations conference on climate change in Paris this December. As Chait notes, the planet just experienced its hottest month ever and sea levels are rising three times faster than previously estimated.
American political leaders and climate-change denialism have also made it difficult for the US to make meaningful progress on the issue -- for instance, by passing the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.
There is other encouraging news to report, though, and Chait is feeling optimistic.
“Even if all the Paris talks do is simply eliminate the risk of the all-too-thinkable worst-case scenario, it would constitute a monumental achievement in the history of human civilization, like the development of modern medicine,” Chait writes.
The price of solar power has fallen dramatically in recent years, from almost $10 per watt two decades ago to 50 cents per watt today -- some estimated the price wouldn't dip below 50 cents for another 15 years. Today, a new solar power plant is cheaper to build in sunny places than a coal or natural gas plant, and the same will soon be true in places that receive an average amount of sunlight.
Wind power, too, is getting cheaper; new energy-efficient technologies are being developed at a rapid pace; and new regulations mean that no new coal plants will ever be built in the US.
Impressive action on climate change is being made in some unexpected places as well.
In China, which leads the world in greenhouse gas emissions, coal consumption and production have declined as the country has invested in renewable energy, dramatically increasing its solar capacity and wind energy production in recent years. China’s action could arguably set a powerful example for other developing nations.
The What’s Working Honor Roll highlights some of the best reporting and analysis, from a range of media outlets, on all the ways people are working toward solutions to some of our greatest challenges. If you know a story you think should be on our Honor Roll, please send an email to editor Joseph Erbentraut at joseph.erbentraut@ with the subject line "WHAT'S WORKING."