Why 2015 Was an Incredible Year for the Environmental Movement

by Annie Leonard

December 17, 2015

Things are far from perfect, but together we've made enormous progress in defending our planet and her people.

Global Climate March

Demonstrators in Melbourne, Australia during a global day of climate actions. Photo by Peter Campbell / 350.org.

The end of the year naturally prompts us to reflect, and as I write this it’s hard not to slip into multiple well-worn cliches. To be honest, I could easily sum up 2015 by writing in big, shiny letters “We’re winning, folks!” But I don’t think that does justice to all the time, effort, passion and creativity that has been put into the movement this year.

So I’ll try to sum up just a few of the reasons why we should all feel confident that this year has been a success.

We Got Shell Out of the Arctic

When I first came back to lead Greenpeace just over a year ago, it seemed almost impossible that the millions of people around the world concerned with climate change could counter the billions of dollars Shell planned to spend in its exploration. But over the past year, I’ve seen incredible acts of personal bravery, activism and optimism from people that made the impossible inevitable.  

Shell didn’t realize when it decided to host its drill rig in my hometown of Seattle that Arctic destruction wouldn’t be welcome in Washington. Seattle’s been pushing back against the misuse of corporate power for decades, and I couldn’t have been prouder to see kayaktivists of all ages take to the water there last summer to say sHellNo.

Incredible protests kept the pressure on Shell at home and around the world, until in late September the company suddenly announced it was cancelling its Arctic drilling program for the for foreseeable future. Shell cited three factors for this decision: the limited reserves found in test drilling this summer, the cost of drilling in a remote and inhospitable area, and an uncertain regulatory environment.

I’m positive that the regulatory uncertainty Shell is afraid of is a direct result of the public outcry from millions of people that Arctic oil must stay where it belongs — in the ground.

The Energy Revolution Is Already Here

There’s no question that we need to keep demanding safe, clean, renewable energy, but guess what? Solar and wind power are now growing way faster than electricity generated by fossil fuels.

Action at Agios Dimitrios Power Station in Greece

Activists climb the largest tower of Greece’s most polluting power plant to spread the call for 100 percent renewable energy.

Twice as many Americans are now employed in the solar power industry as in coal mining. We’ve crunched the numbers and it’s totally possible for the world to be run on 100 percent renewable energy by the middle of this century.

That means no more carbon dioxide emissions from power generation, phasing out nuclear energy with all its associated dangers, and ending the poisonous pollution that plagues communities living near oil, coal and gas infrastructure.

People Power Paid Off — Again and Again

Courageous, creative, sustained activism has given us so many incredible victories this year, and I’m thrilled for our allies and friends who’ve worked so hard to make this happen.

People's Climate March

People’s Climate Marchers. Photo by 350.org.

In 2015, we saw the Supreme Court rule that same-sex couples have the right to marry nationwide. We saw President Obama reject the Keystone XL pipeline, in a huge victory for farmers and indigenous communities that live on the pipeline’s route, for families suffering in the shadows of oil refineries, and for communities throughout the world facing extreme weather brought on by climate change. In a smaller but no less important ruling, we saw California ban microbeads, which had been making our oceans and waterways toxic.

My family, friends and colleagues have been known to joke about how positive I always am. It’s true — I made a conscious decision years ago to bring every ounce of enthusiasm I have to our shared work. But as I reflect on 2015, feeling good isn’t something that requires much effort.

Together we have made enormous progress in defending our planet and her people.

But I’m not suggesting for one moment that everything’s perfect.

I am deeply troubled by the recurring incidents of gun violence, systemic racism, fossil fuel interests paying off our politicians, and the mounting obstacles are placed in front of regular folks — especially low income and people of color — to vote or otherwise engage in our democracy. I’ll be throwing myself into those issues and more in the coming year, and I’m so excited to share with you what Greenpeace will be focusing on in 2016.

But in the meantime, let’s take a moment to be proud of what we’ve achieved this year and recharge our personal batteries for the next round. Happy holidays.

Annie Leonard

By Annie Leonard

Annie Leonard is the co-Executive Director of Greenpeace USA. Leonard began her career at Greenpeace in 1988 and has returned to help the organization inspire and mobilize millions of people to take action to create a more sustainable future together. She is based in San Francisco.

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