Updated: Nov 20, 2021
It’s so difficult to stay optimistic sometimes. Here at Sweet Potato Soup, I have a moan now and again and there are times when an issue is just too enraging to be pleasant about. Overall though, the truth is that if we are to fight the good fight it’s often a long fight. Naturally, society, in general, is far more responsive to fear than to hope. Fear drives action and provokes a response. More often than not, it’s not a particularly kind one.
Now and then, it’s essential to focus on the positive. To stop and see the changes that have occurred. Whilst we’re busy focusing on what isn’t being done, it’s easy to miss what has been achieved. This is particularly true of the climate crisis.
It may feel as if there aren’t many reasons to be positive about the environment in 2021. World leaders are due to come together on the 1st of November to finally agree on how to tackle the climate crisis in a real way. Yet, the absence of Russia and China in these vital discussions has largely obliterated any optimism we may have had in regards to COP26.
The lockdowns of 2020 proved how quickly wildlife can recover when humanity retreats. And yet, society seems largely unchanged through this experience. Governments are encouraging citizens back to the office and the roads appear as busy as ever.
Yet, there are many reasons to feel positive about the environment in 2021. They don’t always get the attention they deserve and so here we celebrate the environmental successes and the trends turning in the right direction.
Here are my top reasons to feel positive about the environment in 2021:
Although electric ferries have been around for a few years now, progression has been fairly slow. Testing of several electric ferries has taken place in Portsmouth and Plymouth in 2020 but have not yet transitioned to replacing passenger ferries in the UK. Although we have two hybrid electric ferries due to join the Brittany Fleet, they are unlikely to do so until 2025 at the earliest.
Norway however, has fully embraced the electric ferry. In March 2021 The Bastø Electric was completed and is set to transport up to 600 passengers and 200 cars across the Moss and Horten route. In 2022 alone, they expect emissions on this ferry route to be reduced by 75%.
In the UK most of us rarely use ferries. However, in coastal and island communities, such as in Norway, ferry travel is essential. Increased mobility provides social mobility and employment opportunities. Unfortunately, this comes with an environmental impact. Aside from emissions that contain CO2, Sulphur Dioxide and Nitrogen Oxide, ferry travel is responsible for considerable noise pollution, which has enormous effects on wildlife. Likely, these reasons are what led Norway to create and operate the world’s first electric car and passenger ferry in 2015.
So, why are electric ferries a reason to feel positive about the environment in 2021?
Simply put, because more electric ferries are being commissioned. Lisbon is expecting ten electric ferries this year and Holland Shipyards have been commissioned to launch a dozen electric and hybrid ferries.
If we are to reduce air travel going forward, then we have to have better alternatives and unless these alternatives are substantially more sustainable, it’s going to be too hard a sell. International travel, as proven through the Covid-19 crisis, is almost considered a basic human right.
But, did you know you can travel from China to Japan by ferry? Or from Russia to South Korea? To Poland from Sweden? Ferry travel offers more possibilities than many of us realise so electric ferries may go some way to transforming how we travel in the near (fingers-crossed) future.
In addition, Brittany ferries are now trialling an electric sea glider that has the potential to transport up to 150 passengers between the UK and France in just 40 minutes.
We expected the Biden administration to rejoin the Paris agreement and support the green agenda more than the former US president. However, the pace at which many decisions that were made in the past four years have been reversed was faster than even the most optimistic among us were expecting.
In June this year, the Biden administration halted an oil and gas drilling operation due to commence in the Alaska Arctic.
The region is rich in oil but also in wildlife, being home to bears, caribou, arctic foxes and hundreds of bird species. Drilling for oil would demand industrial development of the region and bring about noise pollution and increased use of fossil fuels at a time when we should be investing in alternative energy.
This year brings a reprieve for environmentalists and the indigenous people of Alaska whose way of life is being threatened by potential oil and gas extraction. Yet, those who support removing fossil fuels from Alaska promise there is big money to be made and they will not be defeated so easily.
Permanent bans must be put in place to continue to protect this rare undeveloped wildlife refuge.
Read more about how you can support this through The Wilderness Society.
Environmentalists have been talking about Ocean Cleanup’s innovative system to scope plastic from the sea on a huge scale for a few years now. Ocean Cleanup is the vision of Boyan Slat who, at 16 years old, grew concerned upon scuba diving that he’d seen more plastic bags than marine life. He asked himself, ‘why we can’t we just clean it up?’ So, this is what he proceeded to do. His Ted Talk on how we could clean up our oceans went viral in 2012 and provided him with the resources needed to fund and develop his invention which he did through founding Ocean Cleanup in 2013. He’s hands-down one of those high-achieving kids who makes you wonder what you’ve been doing with your life!
Following a few hiccups and issues with their first system, System 002 announced proof of technology on October 22nd, 2021.
Their aim is clear - to remove 90% of all floating plastic pollution from the world’s oceans by targeting, capturing, removing and recycling.
Why is plastic in the ocean so toxic?
Well, actually a relatively small amount makes it out to sea, with around 97% returning to our coastlines. Not great news for our beaches. What does make its way offshore, stays there, often creating what has become known as Garbage Patches. Over time these break down in microplastics that make their way into our food source. Apart from causing untold harm to marine life, the fact is that when it reaches animals and plants it’s only a matter of time until it is prevalent in human bodies.
Consuming plastic is a terrifying idea and yet, the longer that plastic is allowed to remain floating in our seas, the closer we get to this very real threat. Whilst focus must remain firmly on prevention, Ocean Cleanup tackles the problems we have already instigated. This is why the success of System 002 is one of the top reasons to feel positive about the planet this year.
Watch this video to see Ocean Cleanup in action:
Knowledge is power when it comes to reversing climate change. Yet, an unfair amount of this pressure has been heaped upon the general public.
As consumers, we are encouraged to adapt our behaviour to be more eco-conscious. I hear of sleepless nights wondering if the yoghurt pot we weren’t sure was recyclable will be the cause of the whole neighbourhood’s black bins being dumped in landfills after all. Or if a piece of fruit we ate was grown thanks to the destruction of a rainforest, then flown from halfway around the world in a giant fridge that was later dumped in the ocean. It’s a lot for each of us to take responsibility for and because it’s not a simple issue, we don’t have the information available to make these everyday decisions without inevitably messing it up. I’m getting all flushed just thinking about it. Wait, maybe that’s how we’ll survive the climate crisis - stress sweat?
But wait - there’s another way.
Eco-Score works on a similar basis to nutritional score labelling on food products, where the traffic light system tells you how good your food is for your body. Except, Eco-Score scales each food item based on how much impact its production has had on the environment. This takes into account where the food has come from, how it’s been transported (carbon emissions), the packaging, impact on natural resources (including water usage), biodiversity and wildlife (including deforestation), as well as the environmental policies of the country of origin.
Developed in France, the Eco-Score is currently being trialled in Lidl supermarkets in the UK. Non-profit, Foundation Earth, are also trialling an Eco-Impact scorer on a range of products. Although neither company are expected to become standardised labels on food products for some time, the initial feedback is positive. Consumers are more likely to choose products with a lower environmental impact. We can only hope that once this system is widespread (and I’m confident it’s a matter of when not if), tight measures will be taken to prevent greenwashing because trust in this scheme will be key to its success.
Why Should We Be Positive About The Environment in 2021?
Often it feels that with every step forward we take two steps back. We eagerly await outcomes from COP26 and yet the UK has just announced duty cuts on domestic flights, which are almost always unnecessary. If the scale of the climate issue isn’t already overwhelming then announcements such as this make you want to retreat to a corner and place your hands over your ears as you rock back and forth pleading ‘there’s no place like home’ until you wake from the nightmare. The truth is though there is no place like home and so we must take better care of it.
If we are to keep fighting climate change then we must celebrate the wins and give proper coverage to technologies and positive measures that are being taken so that we may support them.
So if you’ve enjoyed hearing about the above successes this year please share this article. It’s not enough to put pressure on what is not being done. To further what is, we need to make our support of these actions public.