Zimmerman: Take time to celebrate climate victories
Youth stand with signs at a climate strike in 2019. File photo.

One important aspect of environmentalism is knowing when to take a break. News feeds are dire right now, and without diminishing the gravity of contemporary events, we need a win.

So, I am taking this opportunity to highlight some good environmental news. The world, the United States and the residents of San Jose—and our elected officials—have made progress on the climate front which should be acknowledged and celebrated. Now more than ever.

Our local elected officials have stepped up

Last month’s column highlighted the efforts of San Jose to combat climate change. Let’s just say the city is a national leader in addressing climate change. You can get a better look at the city’s climate change plan on its Climate Smart webpage.

The long-awaited Santa Clara County sustainability plan, five years in the making, was unveiled at the end of January. Over the next three years, the plan commits to lowering greenhouse gas emissions, electrifying more buildings and planting an additional 3,000 trees.

State-level action

California has some of the strongest environmental standards in the United States. Despite this—or maybe because of it—the state economy continues to grow while overall greenhouse gas emissions drop. However, a UN report finalized last month states combating the climate crisis will require more than reducing our current carbon output. We must remove carbon from the atmosphere.

This is a big ask, but one that state Sen. Dave Cortese is making in his ambitious bill, SB 1297. This bill calls on California to advance carbon reduction across all building and construction materials and maximize carbon sequestration. Sen. Cortese also has a bill, SB 1385, which aims to make solar energy more accessible to low-income families.

Last year, District 13 state Sen. Josh Becker passed two notable bills. SB 596 focused on reducing the carbon footprint of cement, and SB 68 provided support for transitioning buildings to all electric. This current legislative session, Sen. Becker is working closely with youth organizations across his district to guarantee adequate k-12 climate education.

Federal action

The Biden administration has worked hard to reverse the legislative—and subsequently real—environmental damage caused by the Trump administration, such as restoring Bears Ears National Monument and shutting down the Keystone XL Pipeline.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill, a much-needed investment in infrastructure and climate the environmental movement has been hoping for, was signed into law late last year. No, it isn’t as comprehensive as many would have hoped, but it is certainly better than nothing. And for the first time, the links between environmental justice and social justice are being recognized and acted upon. The new infrastructure bill, signed last November, includes $240 billion for environmental justice projects, reportedly the largest such investment in U.S. history.

International action

In the wake of the failed COP 26 climate summit, some nations stepped up and drafted an agreement that saw over 100 countries agree to halt or reverse deforestation by 2030. More significantly, this agreement includes countries possessing 85% of the world’s forests. There’s also an important pledge by 105 countries to reduce methane by 30% by 2030. Methane is far more potent that carbon dioxide when it comes to trapping and retaining heat in the atmosphere.

And don’t forget, the ozone layer is healing itself. First identified in the late 1970s, the thinning of the ozone layer is caused by the release of certain chemicals into the atmosphere. The Montreal Protocol in 1989 is one of the rare examples of an agreement being adopted successfully on the international level.

Are these steps going to solve the climate crisis? No. But they are headed in the right direction. Successful environmental advocacy is about stamina, and the successes highlighted above were the result of years of efforts by individuals and organizations.

Keep pushing—I recognize the actions I have highlighted are not nearly enough—but take a moment to celebrate the victories achieved, the directions set and momentum that is building.

San José Spotlight columnist Erin Zimmerman is a climate reality leader with the Climate Reality Project’s Silicon Valley chapter. Erin, a long-time environmental and political activist, holds a PhD in political science. Her column appears every third Wednesday of the month. Contact Erin at [email protected].

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