Climate Corner: Some good news for the climate in 2023
Dec 30, 2023
At the end of the calendar year, it is customary to review the highlights of the past year. There was compelling evidence of the urgency needed to address the climate crisis right before our eyes in 2023 – for example, the year being the hottest on record and forest fire smoke coming all the way down from Canada to the Mid-Ohio Valley.
But it is important also to note the progress in addressing the climate crisis and those affected by climate change this past year. Among these positive developments are the following:
* Solar power has expanded. In 2023 in the U.S., we are getting 12 times more energy from the sun than 10 years ago (Environment America, 2023), and 48% of all new generating capacity in 2023 was solar-based (Solar Energy Industries Association, 2023). Over 260,000 people are now employed in the solar industry (U.S. Department of Energy, 2023). Solar photovoltaics have shown a price decline of 42% over the past 10 years (S.E.I. A.). Indeed, the sun shone brightly on the solar industry in 2023 and will continue to do so. Engineers at West Virginia University are bringing the state one step closer to bringing solar-generated power to the electrical grid with a new project at the I-79 Technology Park near Fairmont (WVU Today, 2023).
* Coal is dying out. Just as solar power has boomed, coal is in decline in the U.S. Coal has been significant in electrical generation and in the manufacture of steel and cement. But coal is the largest emitter of CO2; as coal continues to decline so will greenhouse gas emissions decrease, and the climate will improve. The decline in coal has been driven by the sustained expansion of clean-energy technology (International Energy Agency, 2023). Utility demand for coal in the U.S. has dropped by 12% (U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2023), and jobs in the coal industry have dropped by two-thirds since 1985 (Global Energy Monitor, 2023). Coal communities in West Virginia and eastern Ohio have been hurt by these events and must be assisted through job training and community development, which are relevant to the new economy built on renewable energy.
* More electric cars are on the road, compared to 2022. Over 15 million electric vehicles (battery and plug-in hybrids) were shipped worldwide in 2023 (Gartner, 2013), and 25% more were sold in 2023 than in 2022 (Fortune, 2023). In addition, prices of EVs have dropped thanks to manufacturer discounts and tax incentives associated with the Inflation Reduction Act.
* The ozone layer is healing. The ozone layer is the atmospheric filter that protects living things from harmful ultraviolet rays and also helps in addressing climate change. Due in large part to worldwide agreements like the Montreal Protocol to limit hydrofluorocarbons, the ozone layer is returning to its original state faster than previously anticipated, and at this point it is expected to recover to 1980 levels by 2040.
* Bees got a big win. In 2023, the European Union instituted a ban on pesticides that are harmful to bees, which are among the most important pollinators in the world. Just recently European courts upheld this ban (New York Times, 2023) so that at least in Europe, bees are buzzing and fulfilling their pollinating potential. In our country bees, pollinate over 100 crops which contribute $15 billion to our economy. Besides banning harmful pesticides we can limit habitat loss, diseases that infect bees and emulate the effective action of the EU, thereby supporting the threatened bee population in our country.
* Several groups in our region have continued their dedicated work to address climate change and to promote awareness about the climate crisis. Among them is Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action under the capable and well-informed leadership of Eric Engle; this group works on several fronts to raise awareness about climate-change issues in the Valley. Relmagine Appalachia advances the idea that economic growth and increased employment can be derived from projects in renewable energy in central Appalachia. And the local chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, as part of a national and international movement, advocates for federal legislation to address the climate-change crisis by promoting jobs and economic growth through renewable energy.
George Banziger, Ph.D., was a faculty member at Marietta College and an academic dean at three other colleges. He is a member of the Green Sanctuary Committee of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Marietta, Citizens Climate Lobby and of the Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action team.