2015 was a year that shook us out of complacency. Black Lives Matter forced the nation to confront the threat of police violence faced every day by African Americans. The refugee crisis coupled with the movement of ISIS into Europe and the United States brought distant wars close to home. The descent of the Republican presidential debate into new lows of demagoguery highlighted the emptiness of political discourse. And across the country, communities experienced the torrential downpours, record temperatures, floods, droughts, and firestorms predicted by climate change models.
But 2015 also brought breakthroughs. It was a year of new activism in defense of black lives and the life of the planet, new focus on the underlying causes of inequality, and evidence of a deep reservoir of compassion that motivated millions in a time of crisis.
Here are my top picks for new possibilities from 2015 that suggest we could be at a turning point.
1. The world set ambitious goals for climate stabilization, but real leadership came from the grassroots
World leaders met in Paris and agreed that temperatures must remain within 1.5 degrees Celsius of preindustrial levels to avert catastrophes of all sorts. And then they signed an agreement that fell far short of accomplishing that.
We learned that temperatures are already up by 1 C, and the effects are being felt. It was a year of biblical firestorms in the West and historic flooding across the South, and while there was temporary relief from drought in California, long-term predictions remain dismal for those relying on the sparse water resources of the Southwest.
There were important steps toward real solutions, nonetheless.
As the cost of wind and solar energy generation has fallen, the United State has experienced a renewables boom. Wind now accounts for nearly 5 percent of electricity generation, up from 1 percent just eight years ago. Solar energy installation is up about 19 percent compared to 2014, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association; about a third of all new electricity generation came from solar during the first three quarters of 2015.
Carbon dioxide emissions actually fell globally in 2015. Toxic pollution levels spurred a reduction in coal burning in China and a major ramp-up of renewables.