10 environmental successes to be proud of in 2018

Anyone else finding it harder to seek out environmental current affairs? I don’t mean proactively learning news in the age of instant knowledge (obviously that’s easier than ever before); I mean it can be hard to find the actual motivation.

Doom this, gloom that. Staying excited to constantly educate yourself about terrifying things that bum you out is… tricky.

I mean where’s the incentive to seek out what you know will upset you?

We’re not genetically programmed to do that! Expend energy and resources pursuing information that will disrupt our cognitive homeostasis: surely that’s self-destruction at its purest?!

Avoiding discomfort seems to be the cause of infinite 21st-century problems and self-education is not immune.

And as our willingness to engage diminishes, it’s just sooo much easier to ignore environmental current affairs instead. Because the alternative – pushing through fear – is intense, right? When it just gets to that hectic level where suddenly your mental health is on the line if you can’t get climate change back to arm’s length…

Ok cool, so we’ve absolutely kooked it, but if I think about that too much it’ll ruin my life… so now what?

Basically, I reckon well-intentioned people have it a bit rough at the moment. How’s anyone supposed to feel optimistic about the future after reading the news when most of it is bloody depressing?

Life’s too short to gamble on such anxiety; we’re talking about sustainability right?

Well sometimes it seems much more sustainable mentally to focus on happy things in life instead, like surfing and dogs and croissants.

I feel like every time I try to intellectualise climate change, I am increasingly crippled by its magnitude, which sucks, and I’m over it. Especially because the news definitely ain’t exclusively grim; there’s plenty of good happening too.

I’ve therefore written the below list as much for myself as for anyone else, to spite all the bad tidings and rebalance the scales in favour of positivity.

Time for a few warm and fuzzies, people!

Ten 2018 environmental happenings that are exclusively good-news stories, full of poz feels to help reaffirm our faith in humans, technology and whatever else you think is going to help us rehabilitate this glorious planet.

10 Environmental Successes To Be Proud Of In 2018 - Solar Capital Of The World
Image Credit: Antonio Garcia

The solar capital of the world

Did you know Australia’s viability to run on 100% renewable energy has been proven by three separate studies? I know, it seems crazy while our politicians continue to obsess over coal.

But bugger them, we have the highest rate of household solar PV systems in the entire world.

About 23% of suburban roofs now have panels, that’s almost 1 in 4! Even without any legislation, Aussies are leading the world in personal energy sovereignty.

Renewables are taking over

That personal sovereignty contributed in no small part to a very exciting recent accomplishment of humankind: renewables officially outweigh fossil fuels for new energy production worldwide as of this year. YES.

Everyone talks about ‘turning the tide’, well now she’s proper turnt.

What a time to be alive!

How exciting is it to have experienced that exact point in time, that exact second that the needle flicked over and our future’s shade of green became more light than dark?

10 Environmental Successes To Be Proud Of in 2018 - Renewable Energy
Image Credit: Appolinary Kalashnikova

We’re (slowly) getting on top of our waste

Some countries in Europe don’t have landfill pits, which is pretty crazy to think about compared to here.

We’ve been a bit slower off the mark with reducing our general waste, which I think is actually forgivable for such a young country. Do we hold 10-year-old children to the same standards as 40-year-old adults?

And we’re getting better at it too! China blew the first whistle earlier this year by refusing our contaminated mixed recyclables, and – with our backs against the wall – we’ve responded.

Disposables are down, reusables are up, and we’ve finally got an Australasian Recycling Label started to help us better specify our waste streams. Baby steps guys! And some not even so baby – in less than a year, NSW has recycled over 900 million items since introducing the container deposit scheme.

Humpback whale population soaring

Like a big beautiful thumbs-up from nature, humpback whale populations in Australian waters have recovered to an insane degree. Having withered to mere hundreds after commercial whaling as recently as the 1950s (!), scientists say they are now recording more than ever before, to the tune of about 30,000.

I don’t know about you, but witnessing a humpback breaching or even just slapping some cheeky tail? Closest thing to a wink from above that I’ve ever seen.

10 Environmental Successes To Be Proud Of In 2018 - Humpback Whale Population
Image Credit: Thomas Kelley

Technology is helping

So there’s this specific starfish being a real pest to the Great Barrier Reef, and we (I mean not you and I, but some other clever humans) have invented a Thunderbird-esque robot to cruise around neutralising them, to help conserve and propagate all the carbon-capturing coral that we can. How cool is that?

Sentinel subs, probably doing their thing right now as you read these words. Amazing.

I mean combine that with other machines that can extract drinkable water out of thin air – yep, they exist too – and technology is offering us serious backup in the fight for sustainable occupation on this wee rock.

Planet Earth is so hot right now

See what I did there? Seriously though, I genuinely consider planetary awareness a major factor of attractiveness in 2018. Anyone else?

Actually, it’s not even that caring about the environment is hot, it’s more that not caring about the environment is just so ugly!

Environmentalism has never been closer to the forefront of mainstream culture than it is right now, which is massively beneficial for mobilising a community that can have a huge impact towards everyday sustainability.

Whether we think we respond to it or not, there’s no disputing that public perception is an incredibly strong motivator for behavioural change and I think it’s working here for the better. Nothing sexier than a keep cup in a bike basket.

The ozone layer is improving

The passage of time continues to confirm that the deadly hole punctured in the ozone layer by rampant use of CFC refrigerants during the 80s and 90s is slowly recovering.

NASA data from this year has shown significant improvements to the chemical composition of the atmosphere above Antarctica, proving once again that many cooperative hands can effectively solve globally-threatening problems.

Everyone hold hands and sing, “we – are – fa-mily!”

Nature medically recognised to be good for humans

Doctors in the UK are now writing “nature prescriptions” in response to research proving its effectiveness in improving multiple areas of human health.

Beyond the physical benefits of being outdoors – exercise, vitamin D, fresh air – being in nature has been medically proven to reduce stress, improve heart rate and lower blood pressure.

It’s awesome that something we all subjectively experience is being measured and quantified by science to make people better. Because everyone recognises that feeling, right? That dense inner calm after a few days of crisp country air in your lungs? The serenity of the bush simply diffusing through your skin and permeating your entire being? Pure magic, seemingly soon to be defined: watch this space.

Money is talking

Heavyweights of the financial world have never been more outspoken than 2018 in advocacy of urgent action on climate change.

Whether it’s Elon Musk building giant batteries and gigafactories and just generally blowing minds, or Richard Branson researching biofuels for his jets and openly criticising the Australian government’s spinelessness, lotsa folks with deep pockets are making noise about environmental conservation. I mean Sanjeev Gupta plans to run the Whyalla Steelworks on 100% renewables! Insanely cool.

Responding to the abject failure of the public sector, these are people who are taking it upon themselves to shape a future of sustainability on behalf of the human race. And look, if they’re clever enough to line their pockets along the way, well, all power to them if they’re saving everyone’s zucchini-bacon in the process.

Everyday people are stepping up

Earlier this year an ordinary couple from Newcastle spent six figures on a second-hand navy boat. Why? To use as an expedition vehicle for cleaning up an obscure WW2 dive site they had visited, that they realised was posing a massive risk to the Pacific Ocean and beyond, and being utterly ignored by every presiding authority. Two deadset legends who thought “bugger it, this problem can’t wait any longer, I’ll bloody do it myself”.

For me, the best thing about 2018 has been a breathtaking crescendo of regular Australians who are simply fed up with environmental inaction and are taking sustainability into their own hands.

Activists recently piloted a drone over Adani facilities in Queensland to reveal significant illegalities exacerbating the already-enormous threat of Australia’s biggest coal mine directly adjacent to a World Heritage Area. It was inexcusable and undeniable, and proof that passionate Australians refuse to have the wool pulled over their eyes.

And for those of us not on any front lines, it’s been a pretty amazing collective experience of banning plastic bags, remembering reusable coffee cups and picking up rubbish from our coasts. I feel like as Australians we are more aware now than ever of just how spoilt we are here in The Lucky Country, and what a privilege it is to be calling this place home during the turn of the tide.

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Roland Davies

Roland Davies (a.k.a. "Lucky Roland") is the voice and author behind the Lucky Roland blog and podcast, a curation of eco stories and inspiration that digests the ABC's Environment News in a listenable way to encourage us humans to green up our lives. Roland is also the founder of Emu Parade, a beach clean movement that's working to remove tonnes of rubbish from Australia's most remote beach systems.

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