Virtually every clean energy record in the world has been broken in the past year. The most investment in clean energy ($329 billion in 2015), the most new renewable capacity (a third more than in 2014), the cheapest ever solar power (in Chile, where it’s half the cost of coal), the longest a country has been run entirely on renewable electricity – 113 days over this summer in Costa Rica.
The pace of the shift to a clean economy is astonishing. This year, half a million solar panels have been installed every day, while China has erected two wind turbines an hour. Wind farms off Denmark, solar farms in Morocco, wave farms off Scotland – everywhere you look, an unparalleled global effort is taking place, one that dwarfs the achievements of the space race.
Nevertheless, the scale of the problem is immense. Even as Barack Obama was announcing the ratification of the historic Paris Agreement on climate change, which aims to hold global temperatures to no more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels, he had to concede, ‘Even if we meet every target embodied in the agreement, we’ll only get to part of where we need to go.’ This is also the first year in which global CO2 levels crossed the symbolic 400ppm threshold.
Never before has our species contemplated a task so vast: to change the composition of the air itself. And when the history of this great green leap comes to be written, it will presumably be told as a story of technologists, of activists, of Elon Musks saving the world from itself. But in fact no greater part is being played than by government, the only kind of institution we have evolved that can co-ordinate an effort of this magnitude, and that is ultimately responsible for doing so.
Jigar Shah, founder of the global clean energy company SunEdison and more recently of investment firm Generate Capital, put it like this: ‘When you think about the spread of technology like the iPhone, it didn’t really replace anything. It wasn’t something that people even considered they needed till they got it. It was greenfield. But clean energy is providing the exact same service you’ve relied on for a hundred years: kilowatt hours. So, how do we get to 100% clean energy? The only answer is government regulation.’
Organic Cotton: It’s cropping up everywhere, from H&M to the Gap. This is a good thing: conventionally grown cotton packs a huge pesticide punch and is one of the most chemical-laden crops in the world. “Supporting the organic cotton industry is a big green step,” says Rob Grand, owner of Grassroots Environmental Products. “It’s not just your own health you’re supporting when you buy organic cotton but also an economy and a method of agriculture that’s good for the planet.”
But if the organic cotton you purchase isn’t also assured to be fair trade, or is processed using conventional dyes, or treated with chemicals such as formaldehyde to keep it from wrinkling on its trip overseas, that cute T-shirt is still leaving a sizeable footprint on the earth. So be forewarned that labels won’t tell you everything and that you have to dig deeper to get the whole story. Whenever possible, try to buy organic cotton in the shades it’s naturally grown in: cream, pale green, and light brown. Also look for garments that are coloured using natural or vegetable-based dyes or bear credible labels (such as Eco-Cert) indicating the product is certified organic, sustainable, and eco-friendly.
Think of fast v. slow food. Eating fast food is bad for you, bad for the environment, bad for everyone. Same with fast fashion. This goes hand-in-hand with buying less, and it’s about finding brands that are transparent about manufacturing processes and are committed to ethical practices. And if you’re worried about finding those brands, think of it this way: they are putting a ton of extra money and effort into making their business ethical and sustainable, so they’re going to let you know. Brands like The Reformation, Patagonia, Amour Vert are going the extra mile. Want to take it a step further? Have something custom made that will last you actually forever.