Confronting climate change can be a daunting task, but looking back over the past year of climate victories gives plenty of reason to keep fighting.
2015 may be on track to become the warmest year on record, but the people’s climate movement has been heating up just as fast. At the end of this year, world leaders will gather in Paris for a major international climate conference—and people around are taking action to show these leaders it’s time for serious change.
Here are just some of the ways the people’s climate movement has been showing its game face and winning victories over the past 12 months.
1. Where It All Began: The Largest Climate Protest the World Has Ever Seen
Last September, 400,000 people gathered in New York City and around the globe for the first ever People’s Climate March. While the march was certainly not the beginning of the climate movement, it was the first time that it became known as a people’s movement, led by the frontline communities most directly impacted. Global climate change disproportionately affects communities of color. In the U.S., 68 percent of African Americans live within thirty miles of a coal plant, where they are exposed to myriad negative health effects.
Rebranding the fight as a people’s movement has prompted environmentalists to start talking less about polar bears, and more about the people who are affected by climate change every day.
2. Under Pressure From the Public, President Obama Vetoes the Keystone XL Pipeline Bill
Years ago, it seemed like few had even heard of the Keystone XL Pipeline. But these days, most can tell you that it continues to be one of the top environmental issues. And this past February, President Obama sided with the scores of Americans who oppose it by vetoing a bill that would have begun its construction.
[...and now, the President has fully rejected the Keystone XL Pipeline—showing the power of people to influence our leaders.]
3. People Power Is Fueling Local Climate Victories
Without a doubt, organizing has led to some major climate wins for cities, counties, and states. One great example is New York’s historic ban on fracking. After years of being confronted by “fractivists” at his public events and receiving hundreds of thousands of public comments, Governor Cuomo finally succumbed to public pressure and issued a statewide ban. Not long after New York, Maryland followed suit by passing a 2.5 year fracking moratorium.
And the clean energy victories keep coming!
Once known as “king coal,” the dying coal industry has taken a huge hit this year, thanks in large part to local organizing efforts to shut down coal plants. And recently, Hawaii’s governor decided to make the switch to 100 percent renewable energy.
4. Arctic Drilling Activists Reach New Heights
This year, the movement to stop Arctic drilling got courageous—and colorful. First, six activists occupied Shell’s drilling rig, the Polar Pioneer, for several days as it crossed the Pacific Ocean. The rig was headed to Seattle for maintenance, and it was met by a giant “unwelcome party” when it arrived.
Rallies continued on land and on water as the ship was in port. Finally, as the rig attempted to leave port for the Arctic at the break of dawn, dozens of “kayaktivists” got in the water and attempted to stop the rig using only their boats and their bodies.
Then in late July, Shell had to return a damaged vessel to port in Portland, Oregon. But it was met by an obstruction when it tried to leave: activists had suspended themselves from the St. Johns Bridge, making it impossible for the vessel to safely pass. The protest stalled the vessel for roughly 40 hours and delayed Shell’s time-sensitive Arctic drilling plans as the world watched.
5. Pope Francis’ Encyclical Highlights Climate Change as a Moral Issue
Arguably one of the most influential people in the world, Pope Francis is changing the conversation on climate. With an estimated 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in the world, his reach is vast—and in the last year, he has spoken out about climate change more than ever.
In June, the Pope released his Laudato Si, insisting that climate change is caused by humans and drawing attention to how it disproportionately affects the poor. The release of this encyclical reframed the international conversation on climate as a moral one, and received support from hundreds of American ministers.
The Pope’s leadership on this issue is already having a vast impact, and it’s only growing.
6. Renewable Energy Becomes More Affordable Than Ever
In the last months, wind power hit an all-time price low, and solar power became cheaper than natural gas. With clean energy becoming more affordable, utilities, businesses, and families across the U.S. are making the switch to save their pocketbooks, as well as the climate.
Another great development for renewables came earlier this year, when Tesla released its 450 volt Powerwall, making it easier than ever for homeowners to store energy that they harnessed from the sun. This innovation has been widely described as a game changer for the solar industry.
7. President Obama’s EPA Rolls Out the Clean Power Plan
In his biggest move yet for the climate, President Obama issued the Clean Power Plan, which will lead to significant reductions in emissions from power plants. The plan on its own is not nearly enough, but it is a big step in the right direction for our climate.
President Obama has spoken out often about the urgent need to address climate change—saying that “our planet is changing in ways that will have profound impacts on all of humankind.” And his Clean Power Plan is the largest step he’s made to back up those words. But he’s also contradicted himself by opening up the Arctic to offshore drilling. In order to secure his legacy on climate change, Obama will need to commit to keeping dirty fossil fuels, like coal and Arctic oil, in the ground.
8. The Next Big Moment in the People’s Climate Movement
This past year has reinforced that when people speak up on climate, leaders listen. With the Paris talks coming soon, environmentalists have another great opportunity to make our voices heard.
By Jill Pape
Jill is an Online Campaigner at Greenpeace USA. She works on engagement and mobilization — giving supporters opportunities to take action and become environmental leaders.