2015 was an interesting year for environmental news and initiatives around the world (and even out of this world!). Here I’ve rounded up some of the biggest environmental headlines of 2015
France Bans Food Waste in Grocery Stores
French government leaders implemented a ‘no waste’ standard in grocery stores earlier in the year, banning stores from throwing away unsold food. They are urged instead to donate all edible remains. This took place as part of a larger goal to reduce French food waste by 50% by the year 2025.
This is a fantastic story for several reasons. Most obviously, this means that a significant amount of food will be put to use instead of filling up landfills. Many people are under the perception that when food is thrown into the garbage, its impact is minimal because food biodegrades. In fact, food is only able to biodegrade and act as a soil nutrient when it is surrounded by just that… soil. Food has great composting potential, but it requires bacteria found in soil to break down and release nutrients.
We can also look at this from the position of resource efficiency. There are some fantastic documentaries out there that describe the massive resource waste that takes place when food is thrown out (check out the film Just Eat It), and the statistics are shocking.
Additionally, we can hope that changes like these coming from a governmental initiative will motivate similar moves throughout the world. There is NO excuse for throwing away perfectly good food.
1.5 Degree Goal
One of the most striking results of the Paris Climate Conference in December was an initiative to allow no more than a 1.5 degree Celsius increase in global warming from pre-industrial levels. This was a step-up from the United States’ previously held 2 degree goal. This goal certainly breeds optimism from those who recognize that .5 of a degree translates into a significant reduction in climate change effects.
The consensus among the conference was that now is the time for climate change initiatives among world leaders, aiming towards the phasing out of fossil fuels and dirty oil towards more sustainable options and renewable energy.
Although this commitment to sustainable values certainly came from a place of sincere motivation to provide a stable environment for future generations, many are concerned that the ‘meat and bones’ of the agreement (ie. that which translates, or will translate into binding legislature) is not significant enough to warrant the change.
Hopefully, 2016 will see more decisive action and meaningful legislature that holds worst-offending carbon emission contributors (ie. large companies irresponsibly using fossil fuels, oil companies etc) accountable for their role in climate change.
Ban the Bead
2015 saw great moves to eradicate the use of harmful microbeads in North America. See my previous post on the consequences of microbead use and how it can affect you. This year, President Obama signed a bipartisan bill prohibiting the distribution of products containing microbes (solid plastic particles less than 5mm that are used for the purpose of exfoliating or cleansing). This bill was passed in an attempt to protect American waterways, thereby protecting ocean creature health as well.
Illinois became the first state to completely ban the production, selling or distribution of personal care products containing microbes back in June.
The Canadian government is making moves to ban microbeads as well. In July of 2015, Canadian Minister of Labour released a press statement proposing the addition of microbes to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act’s list of toxic substances, and developing regulations that would prohibit their manufacture, import and sale.
Water on Mars
So while it’s not a headline directly concerning our planet, recent findings on Mars are certainly worth noting in the realm of significant environmental news.
In September, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced the strongest evidence to date that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars.
Essentially, scientists were able to confirm that enigmatic streaks appearing in the summertime on Mars’ surface are in fact produced by liquid, salty water. Whether this water is capable of sustaining chemical reactions and even life, is unknown for now, but new possibility has arisen out of this finding.
Certainly one of the most significant things to happen in Canada in 2015 was the wildly successful ‘Heave Steve’ campaign that took over the nation, resulting in a ‘sea of red’ across the country during the federal election late in the year. Harper was notorious for his indifference to all things environmental, which became embarrassingly obvious by his absence at the UN climate summit in New York in 2014. Harper’s values were decidedly in favour of the continuance of harmful oil production, and his decade-long administration effectively shredded Canada’s global reputation of being environmentally self-aware leaders.
The tides turned however late in 2015 when Liberal leader Justin Trudeau swept into power with a majority position and immediately began making moves to rectify Canada’s broken environmental spirit, including the appointment of a climate-friendly cabinet and an empowering environmental mandate.
Oh, and he bothered to attend the 2015 Climate Summit in Paris in December, which already shows an increase in environmental consciousness over our previous PM.
Ditching Dirty Investments
Check out my last blog post regarding the state of Canadian Pension funds and the incredible risk to ‘dirty’ fossil stock which has plagued places like Alberta throughout 2015. Not only is it a moral violation to invest in gas and oil, but 2015 proved that it’s also a dangerous financial move.
As more and more powerful decision makers get on board with a movement to dump fossil fuel holdings, economic risks become more and more apparent. As of now, former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney has warned investors of massive risk exposure for fossil fuels. In fact, over 400 institutions including the Canadian Medical Association have pledged to divest more than $2.6 trillion from damaging oil and gas stocks. This is a stunning 50 fold increase from 2014 and there are no signs of slowing down.