The top ten environmental stories of 2014

The year 2014 was eventful for the changing human relationship with the environment. Mass marches, international negotiations, further confirmation of climate science, local and national and international struggles, more extreme weather, more disastrous impacts on the earth – from spills to air pollution to drought to continuing nuclear contamination from the Fukushima nuclear meltdown of 2011 – all forced their way into our consciousness, into our public debate, into our growing awareness that many aspects of human production must change.

All the major systems of the earth are too complex, too varied, too interrelated, for any short list to summarize. All aspects of the nature upon which humanity depends for air, water, food, and sustainable life are under attack.

All these systems are linked together, and each impacts the other. Tar sands mining in Alberta creates water pollution and the siphoning of fresh water for industrial use. Shipping those tar sands by pipeline or train causes spills, leaks, and explosions. Shipping them to the Gulf Coast to be refined creates chemical hazards and air pollution, which impacts the African American and other communities of color which exist near the refineries.

Another example: too much plastic waste ends up in the oceans, where it interacts with the increased ocean acidity and agricultural runoff to create ever-larger dead zones, which exacerbates the already existing problems of fishery collapse due to over-fishing. Fishery collapse intensifies the problems feeding our growing population, More hungry people result in more health problems including increased infant mortality. And so on.

These links tell us that we must approach solutions in a global way, addressing the points of connection of many problems.

The growing knowledge of humanity has been spurred on by many developments in 2014. Here is a list of the top ten areas, in my opinion:

One: The climate change movement comes of age

The street heat provided by climate change demonstrations graduated to a new level in 2014. The People’s Climate March in NYC in September, plus a large number of solidarity actions across the globe from London to New Delhi, put over 600,000 people into the streets, applied pressure to the UN-sponsored climate change process, provided the impetus for actions by cities and states, and became a major factor in building public consciousness of the serious nature of the challenges faced by humanity from global warming.

A new level was reached also in linking the many environmental movements and issues, from fights against fracking in local areas and in states, to opposition to coal and fracked oil trains, to legal efforts to make oil and gas companies pay for their leaks, spills, and  water contamination.

Moreover, with this new maturity and scope, the environmental movement faces new challenges, and must learn from the lessons of past struggles how to build the broad unity necessary to effect fundamental change.

Two: The divestment movement picks up steam

The movement to divest funds from fossil fuel companies grew from a few campuses and cities to threaten the public image and future plans of the fossil fuel corporations, the biggest and thus far most profitable companies in the history of the world. Some investment professionals are now supporting the argument that the stock valuations of these companies, based on “proven reserves,” are vastly inflated because much of those reserves must stay in the ground.

Many universities and colleges have already divested their funds, and some churches and cities are planning to do the same, and thus far, the threatened financial costs have not appeared. On other campuses, the struggle continues even as regents and financial officers resist the pressure, as is happening at Harvard.

This movement will get another burst next year from Global Divestment Day, Feb. 13-14.

Three: International negotiations continue, with more hope

The surprise signing of a U.S.-China climate change agreement has stepped up efforts to negotiate a new international agreement, slated to be signed at the COP20 UN Conference in Paris in November 2015.  The negotiations in Lima, Peru in November 2014, while limited, also help set the stage for commitments to deeper cuts in carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. Many nations are expected to make new promises and make new bilateral agreements in the lead up to Paris.

Four: The latest IPCC report (along with other studies) confirms the reality of climate change

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN body tasked with presenting a sober and scientifically-based evaluation of global warming, continues to up the level of certainty about the reality of climate change, about the severity of the threats to humanity, and about the cause being human activity.

In several fields, other studies are confirming that the ice sheets in the Arctic and Antarctica have begun an irreversible process of melting; that other environmental problems are linked to climate change, such as extreme weather, drought, floods, diminished agricultural yields, forest fires, and lightning strikes, as well as species extinction, and much more. This year is on track to be the warmest year yet.

The denialists are having to work harder to confuse, delay, and convince millions of people to ignore the reality of climate change.

Five: World’s oceans are impacted

Changes in the world’s ocean’s are affected by global warming, and in turn are escalating global warming. Ocean acidification is increasing, confirmed by many new studies. As well, the health of the oceans is threatened by over-fishing, by massive accumulations of plastic, and by the pesticide runoff from agriculture turning large areas into dead zones. Coral reefs, among the most biologically diverse and important resources, continue to die at increasing rates.

Six: The California drought

The drought in almost all of California is now of many years’ standing. It covers much of the most productive agricultural land of the U.S. and is resulting in increasing food costs around the country. This is just the latest over the past few years in a series of massive multi-year droughts, such as in the U.S. Southwest, Australia, and Ukraine, and is linked to climate change.

Seven: Republican denials and attacks are escalating

Mitch McConnell has announced that a bill to pass the Keystone XL pipeline will be the first one he will take up as he takes over control of the Senate in January 2015, in spite of massive public pressure in opposition to the pipeline, and to oppose many other measures to find solutions to climate and environmental problems.

Republicans have pledged to authorize the pipeline, to stop the EPA from enforcing new rules regulating carbon pollution and other regulations opposed by industry, to eliminate the Endangered Species Act, to enable their funders in the fossil fuel industries, to drill more, to be protected from paying for spills, leaks, and other contamination of drinking water, and to oppose the new efforts being made by the Obama administration such as the U.S.-China deal, pledges of U.S. funds to the Green Development Fund, and new areas being placed into National Parks and off-limits to oil and gas companies. Weirdest of all, climate change denier James Inhofe is slated to head up the Senate Environment Committee.

Eight: The environmental movement debates capitalism

With the publication in September of the new book by Naomi Klein, “This Changes Everything,” the debate within the environmental movement about capitalism has escalated, focusing on the opposition of the major corporations of the world to the kinds of major changes needed, to actions taken by governments to address climate change, and to any restrictions on their power to control government policy.

Similarly, the Communist Party USA stepped up its work on climate change with a panel at its 30th National Convention (the first ten minutes is a singer performing, then the panel), with a contingent in the People’s Climate March, and with continuing efforts to build bridges between the environmental movement and the labor movement and other people’s movements.

Nine: Green energy takes off

While capitalism is a major part of the environmental problems faced by humanity, and a major obstacle to finding solutions, the world can’t wait for socialism to begin to transform our energy sources. Major progress has been made by some countries in shifting to renewable energy, such as Germany. Some developing countries are also starting to transform their own energy production, such as China becoming the world leader in producing wind turbines and using economies of scale to reduce the costs associated with solar energy panels.

In the U.S., new renewable energy capacity has more than doubled over the past year, with major new installations of both wind and solar. Renewables around the world are growing rapidly. The call for new green energy jobs is uniting the labor and environmental movement.

Ten: There is more to come

Developments in 2014 make clear that the impacts of climate change are going to continue to grow, the struggle to address climate change – in the streets and in the negotiating rooms – are only going to intensify, and that climate change and other environmental challenges are going to become an ever-larger part of political campaigns. These issues are not going to go away, not least because even though Republican obstructionism is increasing, so too is the demand from the public to take serious action.

Eleven (okay, I know I’m cheating):

Lastly, the People’s World has increased its coverage of environmental challenges, climate change struggles, climate justice struggles, and of the strategy necessary to build a movement of billions around the world to save humanity and transform agriculture, industrial production, transportation, and energy production.

Follow our continuing coverage of environmental issues in 2015. Write articles for the PW on local environmental struggles in your city or town. Sign up for our environmental e-blast compilations of environmental articles (email Blake Deppe []). Join the CPUSA Environmental Action Facebook page.

And continue to work to save an earth on which humanity can thrive.

Photo: People’s Climate March. Craig Ruttle/AP


Marc Brodine
Marc Brodine

Marc Brodine is a former AFSCME member and local officer, he is currently an artist and guitar player. Marc writes on environmental issues and is the author of an extended essay on Marxist philosophy and the environment, titled Dialectics of Climate Change