OK, let’s face it, there’s not a lot of good news in the world right now. Political gridlock, economic malaise, freaky weather – it’s plenty enough to make people nervous about the present and fearful of the future.
So, it’s worth a moment to seek out the bright spots among the clouds … the signs that, despite what you see in the newspaper or on cable news, there’s still hope for our society and our planet.
Here are a few:
• Over the last two weeks, the Obama administration has announced new fuel economy and global warming emission standards for cars and heavy duty trucks that will go a long way toward finally breaking our dependence on oil. The new standards for light-duty vehicles will eventually save 4 million barrels of oil per day, while the first-ever standards for heavy-duty trucks will eventually save more than 280,000 barrels of oil per day. Savings from the light-duty standards alone will save nearly as much oil as we currently import from OPEC.
• U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel consumption are projected to fall this year. Emissions in 2011 are projected to wind up at approximately 1998 levels, even though our economy is now 31 percent larger in terms of real gross domestic product than it was in the year of the Clinton impeachment.
• The share of America’s energy coming from renewable sources is projected to hit 8.4 percent in 2011, up from just 6.1 percent in 2007, representing the highest level since 1984 (when overall energy consumption was about 25 percent lower than it is today) and the third highest level since 1950.
• The number of miles driven on American highways continues to hover below 2007 levels, suggesting that the post-war trend of ever increasing driving and oil consumption may be over.
• The future of clean, renewable energy continues to look bright. The price of solar energy continues to plummet, bringing solar power within the reach of more households, businesses and utilities. The U.S. solar industry is coming off its best year ever in 2010, having installed twice as much solar power as the previous year. Meanwhile, despite a cooling off of the market for wind power, installations are still outpacing last year.
None of these developments are profound enough to make one feel better about melting ice caps and other manifestations of global warming, the push to expand dirty sources of energy such as natural gas from hydrofracking and tar sands oil, the push to expand our exports of coal to China, or any of the other problems affecting the planet and the nation this surly summer. But they do offer a glimmer of hope through the gloom. And that’s something we all could use right now.