Environmental activists represent the planet against the interests of corporations and human greed, all in an attempt to preserve our natural world for future generations. Tactics vary from radical to judicial, yet they share many of the same goals and dreams.
For every new coal plant, for every new species facing extinction, and for every newly polluted stream, there is a victory of equal importance. This list compiles the most significant progress made by the environment and conservation movements in 2008.
The Sierra Club contested the EPA’s previous decision to let coal plants go unregulated by filing a complaint with the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board. In a monumental decision, the board sided with the Sierra Club, ruling that the EPA must set limits for carbon emissions from coal plants. Currently, coal power is responsible for 30% of all carbon emissions.
Through the direction of the Humane Society of the United States, volunteers pushed the proposition onto the ballot and then spent months promoting the unprecedented animal welfare bill to the general public. The results? Proposition 2 was the most popular initiative-driven ballot proposition in California history, garnering 63.5 percent of the vote. The animal agriculture industry, which is more responsible for global warming than the transportation industry, now fears similar laws will be passed across the nation.
After hearing from the World Wildlife Fund and 38,000 concerned people around the world, the Indonesian government agreed to more than double the size of the Tesso Nilo National Park, a sanctuary for the extremely endangered Sumatran elephant. When created in 2004 the park was only 94,000 acres, but by the end of this year it will have expanded to 213,000 acres. Experts estimate that only around 2,500 Sumatran elephants remain, making this park vital to their survival.
The Nature Conservancy and The Trust for Public Land purchased 320,000 acres of forestlands in western Montana from a logging company; the area is the only spot in the lower 48-states that has gone almost entirely untouched by humans. Not a single species has gone extinct in the 200 years since Louis and Clark first passed through the area. While deforestation worldwide continues to rise, the Nature Conservancy has stood up to protect 3.5 million acres of forestlands in the last five years.
A jury in the UK acquitted six Greenpeace activists of criminal damage charges after they trespassed, scaled, and vandalized a 650-foot smokestack at the Kingsnorth coal plant in Kent. The defense argued that they were acting in defense of the planet and that the damage done by the coal plant’s daily 20,000 tons of carbon emissions will result in damage from climate change much worse than any graffiti. Unfortunate side-note: activists tried the same argument in the United States recently without success.
Animal Planet’s Whale Wars has to be the most successful use of the media by any activist group in history. Just the mere fact that the general public now knows Sea Shepherd exists is a major victory for the 32-year-old organization and the marine life they represent. Not to give away the ending, but during the 83-day campaign Sea Shepherd prevented the Japanese from reaching their hunt quota by nearly 300 whales. And there will even be a second season!
Greenpeace’s “Ban the Bulb” campaign succeeded in Argentina this March when the country adopted an incandescent light-bulb ban. In late 2007, Greenpeace was a leading voice in the proposed bulb ban in Ireland, which the group believes was an early precursor to the European Union’s similar law enacted this October. Replacing the bulbs could reduce energy consumption for lighting by 60 percent and prevent 30 million tons of CO2 emissions each year.
Under the guidance and encouragement of the Environmental Defense Fund, the EPA passed new regulations for diesel ships and boats that will cut the pollution from each engine by 90 percent once fully enforced in 2015. These ships, nicknamed “floating smokestacks,” are among the most polluting vessels on the sea. “These clean air standards will mean millions of Americans will have healthier and longer lives,” said Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp.
Once dams are up, they rarely come down. But a coalition of seven conservation groups called the Penobscot River Restoration Trust managed to raise enough money to purchase two dams from their owner, the PPL Corporation. By 2012, the coalition will have completely removed the two dams, allowing the Penobscot River to run unimpeded for 1,000 miles. The dam removals will allow the local ecosystem to recover from the riverbed-up, helping save many fish and bird species.
10. Barack Obama
Environmental groups backed Obama from the start, and for good reason. While any environmentalist will admit that he is not perfect, we are coming out of eight years of disaster and he holds the promise of a pair of open ears. With some luck and continued work, his administration will bring a new era of environmental protection worldwide.
Photo Credits: All from Flickr under Creative Commons licence, courtesy of the following users: Space Ritual, nightthree, jimbrickett, danieVDM, photogirl7, *jude*, _JohnMuir, World Development Movement, Matthias Winkelmann, except #6 courtesy of Sea Shepherd.