Year in review: 50 major stories about the environment in 2020
Two things dominated the news cycle in 2020: the coronavirus pandemic, and the 2020 presidential election. But these weren’t the only noteworthy events of the year. Plenty of other significant things happened, especially in the environment and climate change spheres.
A handful of years ago, some of the world’s leading scientists declared 2020 a critical year in the fight against climate change. Back in 2015, this declaration brought nearly 200 countries together to develop the Paris Climate Agreement, a pledge to reduce worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, and keep rising global temperatures in check. While the agreement had been successful in its mission so far, scientists say that it's not enough. More must be done to keep the world from becoming an uninhabitable hellscape, including wide-ranging public policies, checks on corporate emissions, and changes in the way the ordinary person lives.
As climate change becomes a more widely discussed and acknowledged issue in our lives, the reporting on it grows and becomes more comprehensive. There are now hundreds if not thousands of climate-related stories written each year where there used to be only a few. For example, The Guardian alone published 3,000 climate and environment-related articles in 2020. While we love to see such an important issue being given that much space, we know that it can be difficult to keep up with such an immense amount of information. So we did it for you.
Stacker compiled a list of 50 major stories about the environment that were published in 2020, using news archives and government resources. So without further ado, from the Bezos Earth Fund to the derecho that swept the Midwest, here are the biggest news stories about the environment that you may have missed in 2020.
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January 22: Trump repeals the “Waters of the United States” regulation
In January, the Trump administration repealed the Obama-era “Waters of the United States” regulation that sought to protect streams, wetlands, and groundwater in an effort to keep the country’s water supply clean. The repeal now allows landowners and developers to dump pollutants into waterways and to destroy wetlands in order to complete new construction projects.
January 27: Cambridge ordains climate warning labels on gas pumps
An ordinance passed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that requires the placement of warning labels (think those that appear on the outside of a carton of cigarettes) on gas pumps. This is the first city in the nation to require these labels that educate consumers about the dangers of fossil fuel use. “The fight to reverse climate change requires that everyone take action to change their behavior, and the City must underscore the fact that each individual’s behavior can make an impact on the environment and on public health,” says the ordinance.
February 6: Majority of Americans agree about climate change
The American Psychological Association found that for the first time, the majority of Americans (56%) agree that climate change is the most significant issue we face as a society. Still, four in 10 adults admit that they have yet to take any steps in their own lives to reduce their impact on the Earth, leaving room for plenty more work to be done.
February 9: Antarctic temperatures reach record highs
Brazilian scientists on Seymour Island reported record high temperatures of 20.75 degrees Celsius (or nearly 69 degrees Fahrenheit) in early February. Describing the record as “incredible and abnormal,” the scientists warned that it may indicate climate instability in the world’s largest collection of ice.
February 15: Jeff Bezos launches Bezos Earth Fund
The world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, announced the launch of the Bezos Earth Fund in February. After being pushed by Amazon employees on climate issues for years, Bezos announced on Instagram that he’d be giving $10 billion to scientists, activists, and non-governmental organizations who seek to combat climate change. Amazon still contributes to climate change, and some of those employee activists faced punishment for demanding Bezos address Amazon's greenhouse emissions contributions. Bezos' net worth is $182 billion.
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March 1: New York plastic bag ban takes effect
A bill passed in 2019 banned the use of plastic bags in New York state, which went into effect on March 1, 2020. Only the second state to enact such a ban (the first was California), New York would delay enforcement of the ban temporarily through the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but began cracking down on offenders again in October.
March 4: Australian wildfires are contained
One of the first and most major environmental events of the year was the out-of-control wildfires that swept over much of Australia. Beginning in earnest in September 2019, the fires decimated more than 46 million acres of land and sent smoke traveling around the globe. Major rainstorms finally helped to contain them all nine months later in March 2020. Global climate change has created dryer, hotter weather, which increased Australia's fire season and made the fires more severe.
[Pictured: People stranded in Mallacoota, Victoria are evacuated by army personnel to the HMAS Choules after bushfires ravaged the town on Dec. 30 on Jan. 3, 2020 in Mallacoota, Victoria, Australia.]
March 26: Extreme heat is found to impact mental health
The scientific journal PLOS One published a study in March revealing that extreme heat, like the kind caused by ever-increasing heat waves, can have a negative impact on mental health as well as physical health. On days over 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit, the study found, folks are more likely to experience stress, depression, and emotional issues than they are on days where temperatures are cooler than 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit.
April 7: The Great Barrier Reef experiences a bleaching event
In early April, the Great Barrier Reef experienced its third bleaching event in five years, setting a modern record. A stress reaction to warm ocean temperatures, the bleaching would appear to indicate that the speed of global warming has increased and that these events might become more commonplace moving forwards.
April 14: A plastic recycling enzyme uncovered
A French startup named Carbios discovered an enzyme that could break down PET plastics (the most common type of plastic) earlier this year. Several mutations later, they unveiled a new iteration of the microorganism that could almost completely degrade a metric ton of PET plastic in just 10 hours, which is big news in the fight against plastics pollution.
[Pictured: A technician oversees a chemical manipulation on a Carbios reactor at the premises of Carbios, in Saint-Beauzire, central-southern France, on April 1, 2019.]
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