Some of the most shocking ways the United States will feel the impacts of climate change have begun to reveal themselves this year.
The US saw a record setting 25 billion dollar natural disasters. Maui experienced the country’s deadliest wildfire in the last century. Phoenix has endured temperatures in excess of 110 degrees Fahrenheit for 31 consecutive days. Vermont endured epic floods. Despite all this, the Biden administration reneged on his promise and approved the Willow oil project in Alaska.
But this year was also filled with news of encouraging, inspiring and groundbreaking progress in the US, not the least of which was the joining of a global agreement to switch away from fossil fuels and pledge with its biggest competitor, Chinato accelerate renewable energy.
Achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 will decarbonize the nation’s energy production, transportation, homes and buildings, and industries. Here’s a look back at some of the progress the US has made in 2023, seen through the lens of the stories told by Grist.
Provide clean energy
Electricity generation accounts for about one-quarter of US greenhouse gas emissions. Eliminating them means switching to renewable energy. This year, the country made new commitments to do this: In addition to the COP28 agreement, the US and China have agreed bilaterally to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy this decade.
This will require accelerating the pace at which such projects are permitted. The Biden administration proposed a rule to streamline this process while requiring agencies to consider environmental justice in their reviews. The Bureau of Land Management in turn approved 50 clean energy projects on federal lands in the past two yearsincluding a 732 miles of transmission line across the West. It also suggested reduce the fees for wind and solar development by 80 percent.
States, tribes and US territories are also trying to accelerate progress: New Yorkers voted to allow its public power authority to build renewable energy projectsand Michigan’s legislature passed a package of bills requires the state to use 100 percent clean energy by 2040. Arizona’s Gila River Indian Community approved the country’s first solar channel projectand Puerto Rico receives half a billion dollars to bring rooftop solar power to those who need it most.
Speaking of solar, a recycling industry is taking in old photovoltaic panels. Washington state even passed a law require companies to take it back and recycle it upon retirement.
Retire fossil fuels
Increase renewable energy capacity makes it possible to extract fossil fuel energy. Coal-fired electricity capacity in the US is Down 42 percent from its peak in 2011, and 40 percent of what remains is expected to retire by 2030.
Yet dumping coal requires supporting communities whose economies have long depended on it. Southwest Virginia has been mining coal since 1880, but the area start taking advantage of solar power. The industry gains trust by creating local jobs and building arrays for schools, saving them money on their utility bills. Even those mine gets a second chance – scientists are finding rare species like the green salamander returning to areas once stripped for extraction.
Looking past old coal sites, hundreds of thousands of abandoned oil wells dot the country, polluting the air and water. A federal cleanup program is sending more money than ever before to cover these wells while creating jobs.
Yet this year the country broke its oil production records. But there is efforts to limit that surge: New Mexico issued a moratorium on new oil and gas leases near schools and day care centers, and the Department of the Interior has banned them from within a 10-mile radius of the state’s Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The Environmental Protection Agency introduced comprehensive regulations that he says could reduce methane emissions of oil and gas by 80 percent.
Despite the country’s best efforts to stop emissions, research shows that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius would also require removing hundreds of gigatons of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Whether it should be done with machines or through natural solutions is a matter of intense debate.
Opponents of technologies such as direct air capture warn the oil and gas industry could use them to justify the extension of fossil fuel use. But the Biden administration supports direct aerial surveying sends $1 billion to two planned facilities on the Gulf Coast each designed to initially capture up to 1 million metric tons of CO2 annually.
Meanwhile, we are gaining a better understanding of how natural solutions can promote sequestration. For example, wetlands can act as major carbon sinks. Louisiana has begun a $3 billion project to restore them, hoping to bring back 21 square miles of land to the coast Trees are also powerful carbon sinks, and restoring them can cool urban heat islands. As part of a tree-equity “collaborative“Seattle has pledged to plant 8,000 trees and 40,000 seedlings in an effort to cover one-third of the city with tree canopy by 2037.
Scientists even find it returning animals to their native ecosystems can help sequester carbon in the soil. The Biden administration is funding the restoration American bison, which help grasslands retain carbon in the soil as they graze and stomp.
Some of the most encouraging signs of progress this year come from electric vehicles. Transportation accounts for nearly one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and most of that pollution comes from cars and trucks. People in the US bought more than 1 million EVs this year, and the country could have 30 million of them by 2030.
To manage this transition, the nation needs hundreds of thousands of public charging ports, and it is racing to build them. A $5 billion federal program is in the process of installing them along the country’s highways. California hit 10,000 public EV fast chargers this year, and Walmart has announced plans to build his own network. Tesla is opening up its large charging network to other car manufacturers.
EVs won’t just change how we get around – their batteries can changing how we power our homes and even the grid. When those batteries retire, they can lead productive second life as storage for clean energy before it is recycled at one of the many recycling facilities being built across the country.
While 95 percent of the critical materials in batteries are infinitely recyclable, we must reduce our dependence on cars to minimize how much of these materials we extract from the earth. Electric buses or new passenger rail lines like the one that opened in Honolulu will help, as well as micromobility programs such as a non-profit organization community-led bike sharing in New Orleans.
Heating, cooling and powering homes and other buildings requires a lot of energy. Although emerging technologies can reduce its impact, the first place is to start improve the efficiency of those structures so that they require less power in the first place.
Discovered by people nationwide efficiency hacks such as insulated shades and exterior window coverings while dealing with extreme heat. The Lower Sioux in Minnesota create sustainable home insulation using “hempcrete”, which they grow and process in their own facility.
But even the most efficient homes still need heating and cooling. This is why 20 governors went all in on heat pumps, promised to install 20 million of them by 2030. They can take lessons from Maine, which the highest adoption per capita in the country. In 2024 states will began administering rebates on the Inflation Reduction Act on electrical appliances such as heat pumps, making them more affordable. Of course, installing it will requires training a whole lot of electricians. And while Berkeley, California’s ban on natural gas in new buildings was struck down in court in April, other cities are finding solutions to the ruling, such as which requires apartment buildings to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
Some researchers are looking at mobile homes as a climate solution, because prefabricated houses can be equipped with solar panels and heat pumps. An equity-driven program in Ithaca, New York, is install it in already existing mobile homes.
Clean up dirty business
As consumers make their own efforts to decarbonize, it becomes easier for them to see the commitments businesses are making toward net zero. Although a federal requirement that they disclose greenhouse gas emissions still exists, California has passed its own climate disclosure laws require companies earning more than $1 billion annually to disclose all their greenhouse gas emissions and the content of the carbon offsets they purchase.
Companies that rely on or manufacture plastics have also experienced more pressure to improve their practices. New York state is suing PepsiCo for its role in the pollution of the Buffalo River watershed. Businesses that use single-use packaging too much face competition from Zero-waste entrepreneurs offering customers better options for refilling containers such as shampoo and detergent bottles.
There is still a long way to go to decarbonize some of the nation’s most polluting industries, such as steel and concrete. The race for green steel is on, as it turns out large investments in ideas for remove coal from its production. Startups are also working on carbon negative concrete and even formulate it store carbon within the material.
Even the US cattle industry could see disruption, since the USDA approved the sale of meat grown in the laboratory. Perhaps an even greater threat to Big Ag? Teenagers. A Los Angeles teenager sued her school district and the USDA on their milk mandates.
Which leads us to perhaps the most encouraging solution story of the year: The mobilization of young people fighting for their right to a safe, healthy and promising future. Children won big in Hero v. Montanawhich can bode well for the 14 youth in Hawaii taking their state’s Department of Transportation to courtand the 18 young Californians who just filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency for discriminating against children by not protecting them from pollution. With kids like these leading the climate movement, next year could have a lot more to celebrate.