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Review of 2021’s Environmental Year: Protests, pledges, and alpacas
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Review of 2021’s Environmental Year: Protests, pledges, and alpacas

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Geronimo. It can be difficult to decide how to categorize the most memorable environmental moments of a year. What dominates attention in the present isn’t always what will be remembered most in the future. While weighing up what constitutes the greater “good” is not always an easy task when it comes to environment policy.

This summer’s campaign to save Geronimo, an alpaca from the UK, is a good example. The public’s imagination was captured by the animal that twice tested positive for bovine tuberculosis (bTB) and yet his owner claimed that he was healthy. Animal activists claimed that the tests were incorrect and that he should not be euthanized. The state claims that this is necessary to control the disease. The case was made international by the court. HeadlinesHe saw the alpaca get widespread support. A march through London was made in his honour, and a petition was signed in defense. The Geronimo was eventually killed because of bureaucratic rules on 31 August.

What should we make of this silly season story, you ask? It can be difficult to accept that a non-endangered species is being harmed in a news story about hogs, when much more global environmental loss is at stake. This was earlier in the month Scientists warned that Antarctica’s Thwaites glacier could shatter within five years. This is the ice shelf that holds back the glaciers enormous mass of frozen water. Antarctica’s contribution to sea-level rise could increase as much as 80% if it does. 25 per centThis further threatens the existence and health of numerous coastal communities. 

The Geronimos story is now insignificant in the face climate change destruction and displacement. In some ways, however, the dead alpaca is a microcosmof our fraught engagement towards the natural world. 

Britain killed more than 200 people in an effort to stem the spread of bTB. 30,000Cattle in the 12 months prior to June 2021 (not including other animals that are affected by the disease, like badgers). Whatever you think about the efficacy of the testing or the culls, Geronimo’s fate highlights the messy moral decisions that are often at play in humanity’s relationship with nature. 

Similar ethical tussles take place on the macro environmental scale. Global emissions must be reduced. However, as countries like India and China reminded delegates at the Cop26 climate summit, it is important to weigh how quickly and by whom those emissions can be reduced against nations that are still developing. Extractive processes like deforestation or overfishing often conflict with the desire for trade or farming. 

As global population grows and emissions decrease, we will see more tensions. The alpaca’s suffering can be seen as a sign that there is a lot of empathy needed to solve climate problems.

It is hard to say that Geronimo had a good year in 2021. However, his story might be a good way to summarize what could have been said to be a good or bad year in all the distorted senses of those terms. To inspire us to tackle the many environmental challenges that we will face in 2022.

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Alok Sharma had a good year

As he closed the negotiations in Glasgow, Alok Sharma expressed his regret to Cop26 attendees.

The summits president was referring to the watering-down of the final agreements wording from a resolution to phase out” coal to the less powerful phase down. He was particularly acknowledging the injustice felt by climate-vulnerable states at the way that heavy-weight, coal-dependent countries such as India or China were accommodated at last-minute, while others were informed that the text had been closed.

It is not enough to apologize to the world for failing to meet its emissions challenge. Although Sharma, who was previously unknown, does not have the diplomatic power of his Chinese and US counterparts but greater empathy could lead to a more just energy transition. Cop27 in Egypt is ahead

Joe Biden has had a bad year

Joe Biden entered the year and his US presidency with the promise to create a green revolution. Legislatively that came in the form a Build Back Better Bill, which would have seen up $1.75trn spent for a range of climate-change priorities such as housing insulation, electric vehicle infrastructure, and electric vehicle infrastructure. 

However, the initiative has been met with strong resistance from both Republicans and some members of Biden’s own party. Senator Joe Manchin, West Virginia senator (who was found to have significant investments in the coal sector), and senator Kyrsten Silena, Arizona senator, pushed conservative Democrats to reduce the spending commitments of the bill and withhold their support. The bill was finally passed by Congress at the close of November, but it still faced many obstacles.

There are concerns that the US administration may lose focus on climate change, given the 2022 midterm elections and the ongoing fight to vaccinate Americans.

A great year for: Solidarity with protestors

Even though Covid-19 restrictions were lifted, protesters around world faced increasing challenges in 2021, sometimes quite brutally. At least 10 people were killed in protests against a military coup in Sudan. Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong have been largely abandoned. fizzled-outUnder the pressure of strict new rules. India’s opposition to agricultural marketization led to sedition cases against journalists and activists, including Disha Ravi, 22 years old.

Climate demonstrations rose up against this pressure and made it clear that the pursuit for action on climate changes must also include the pursuit of justice. 

Greta Thunberg shared the platform at Cop26 with youth activists around the world: from Helena Gualinga in Ecuador and Elizabeth Wathuti in Kenya. Their message was focused on the racial as well as social consequences of climate inaction. Although the scale of their call is overwhelming, their faith in a better world is stronger than ever.

A bad year for: fossil-fuel lobbyists

Keith McCoy, a veteran Exxon Mobil lobbyist signed into a link for what he thought would be a job interview but was actually an undercover Greenpeace investigation. 

McCoy claimed that Exxon Mobil had joined shadow lobbying groups to fight climate science. That it only supported climate policies like a carbon tax because it was certain it would not happen and that such groups pushed US Senators to weaken President Joe Biden’s signature climate bill is not surprising. Exxon has never made this claim in public.

The revelations prompted a congressional investigation by Ro Khanna (Democrat), into disinformation efforts of polluting industries. This culminated with a hearing on Cop26, which many have compared to the exposure Big Tobacco as well as the subpoena for a new raft of documents from oil giants. These documents could be a further embarrassment for the industry in 2022.

An excellent year for electric vehicles

2021 was a year in which the world’s wealthiest man became even more richer. Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Electric Cars, saw his personal wealth increase by 36bn to over 300bn after Tesla’s stock soared to nearly $1.2trn.

But Tesla’s success also speaks to the power of personality cults. And a good year for the company’s stock was not necessarily a good year for its employees: Tesla has had 43 workers’ rights violations filed against it since 2010. 

The legacy of Musk’s astronomic rise therefore hopefully lies in its encouragement of the electric vehicle market more generally. Pure electric vehicle sales in the US are almost non-existent. DoubledIn the first ten months of the year. EV sales in the UK helped fuel the first 10 months of the year in November. RiseIn four months, new car sales have increased by 43%. The transition from electricity to clean energy must now continue. It should be accompanied with a shift away private vehicles and more use of public transport, walking, or cycling.

A bad year for: Climate chaos

Extreme weather continues to cause havoc in millions of communities around the globe, with droughts devastating communities from Kenya to Madagascar. Noticeably, not only the Global South has suffered climate change’s effects this year: catastrophic floods were experienced in Germany, while record-breaking heat domes and megafires raged across Europe and the US.

The UN’s latest science recommends that carbon emissions be reduced by 50% by the end of this decade to stop the carnage. The most significant responsibility should fall on the developed nations, historically the largest carbon emitters. The world is still far off the mark: according to Cop26’s pledges, global temperatures are expected to rise by 2.4 degrees Celsius in 2100.

Beavers have a great year

While thousands of species were suffering from another year of declining numbers (not to mention the once common house-sparrow), one creature in need of help had hope for 2021. After being hunted out to extinction in the UK, beavers will officially be reintroduced in England. The Scottish government has stated that it will actively support their expansion. 

And what’s good to beavers is probably good for all of us. Dams that the species build create invaluable filtering systems for Britain’s polluted rivers. The result? The result?

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