The news is almost all doom and gloom these days. Donald freaking Trump is president. He’s locking babies in cages. Republicans are literally overturning democracy in North Carolina, Wisconsin and Michigan. The Earth will destroy us all in twenty years unless we do something unprecedented in human history in the next ten years. Things are really, really bad. America has several ongoing crises that it is simply ignoring, and we are barreling towards some kind of collapse.
But things are looking up. Especially on the topic of climate change—the biggest existential threat to humanity’s existence in our history. The Green New Deal, the only major policy proposal that scientists have said is adequate to address the crisis of climate change, is gaining momentum in congress by the day. This week, combating carbon emissions got a huge shot in the arm from some truly massive companies.
Xcel Energy serves 3.6 million customers across eight states, and Maersk is the largest container ship and supply vessel operator in the world. Both companies pledging to reduce their carbon output to zero over the next few decades is a big, big deal. They have joined tons of others in a plan to save the planet, as Vox's David Roberts detailed:
This came on the heels, last month, of Google's announcement that it would strive to run all its operations on 100 percent clean energy, at all times, around the clock.
There are now hundreds of companies (Ikea, Apple, BMW, Coca-Cola, Facebook, etc.), more than 90 US cities (Minneapolis, Denver, St. Louis, Atlanta, Salt Lake City, etc.), and two US states (Hawaii and California) committed to reaching 100 percent clean electricity.
And now there's a major utility.
This is how the real target — zero net carbon — will arrive in the US: not in a blinding flash or a big federal bill (at least not at first), but like a virus or a meme, catching hold and spreading through contact.
This is a huge development in the fight against climate change and it's immensely encouraging. If the market is pushing itself towards zero carbon emissions, that reduces the amount of change we need to enact through our increasingly intransigent political system wholly compromised by mega-financial interests.
Now for the bad news: none of this matters if China and India do not jump on board with reducing carbon emissions to zero. Since 1988, 71% of all carbon emissions come from just 100 companies, with China's coal industry leading the pack at a whopping 14%. To put that staggering figure in perspective, the carbon emissions of oil giants Exxon, Shell, BP, Chevron and ConocoPhillips account for 7.4% of global carbon emissions combined.
Reducing carbon emissions in the United States to zero is only one side of the coin to combating climate change. To fully accomplish our goal of saving the world, we need to create cheap, green energy that can be used on a wide scale. Despite the recent pushback against capitalism from a majority of millennials who do not believe in the economic system anymore, it’s not going away any time soon, and so incentivizing all kinds of companies—big and small—to profit off green energy will be vital to the task of staving off certain planetary destruction. It feels hopeless given the scale of the challenge, but we have seen a remarkable amount of movement in just two months since the IPCC released its harrowing report warning us of certain planetary destruction. Not to mention, these scientists believe that the technology does exist and will exist to combat this crisis—where their pessimism comes in is on our political will to enact some serious reforms that will upend our lives. Mankind is capable of some truly incredible feats when we really put our collective mind to it, and climate change is going to test how far we can go.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.