5 Local Climate Change Victories to Celebrate on Earth Day

Climate change is a daunting challenge: the problem is global in nature, implementing meaningful solutions can be frustratingly complex, public attention to the issue is as fleeting as a Twitter hashtag, and the stakes are existential.

As we approach the 49th annual observance of Earth Day on April 22, it’s completely understandable that many people feel discouraged. The White House is rolling back environmental protections that took decades to establish. California is still recovering from the most destructive wildfires in state history, with increasing scientific consensus that changing weather patterns are to blame. Even recycling is losing its feel-good luster, with curbside recycling bin contributions piling up in American cities or even being dumped into landfills due to plummeting international demand for raw materials.

But now would be an absolutely terrible time for locals who care about the health of the planet to become apathetic or cynical, for a reason many wouldn’t expect: We have important environmental victories to build upon and celebrate.

How the story of climate change ends is still in our hands

1. Santa Monica Is Switching Local Businesses to 100% Renewable Energy on May 1

Environmentally progressive Santa Monica is an early adopter of Community Choice Aggregation, a local government framework that allows utility customers to switch from greenhouse gas-producing electricity generated by private utilities to renewable energy delivered over the same transmission lines. Santa Monica plans offer 36%, 50% or 100% renewable electricity. On May 1, Santa Monica is switching the default option for local business customers to the 100% plan. That’s a hugely important step worth celebrating, for two reasons: 1) Business customers create 75% of the city’s overall demand for electricity, making this a monumental shift on a local level. 2) The same Community Choice Aggregation framework is available to other communities throughout Greater Los Angeles, so expect other cities to follow in Santa Monica’s smaller carbon footprint.

2. Gas-Fired Power Plants Are on the Way Out in Los Angeles

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. For Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, at least, there better be. Garcetti’s announcement earlier this year that Los Angeles will not invest billions of dollars to extend the life of the Scattergood Generating Station and two other coastal power plants commits the city to replacing more than 30% of its electrical supply with renewable sources in 10 years. It’s not yet clear how Los Angeles will achieve this goal, but scientific advancements in battery technology are making energy from wind and solar easier to store for reliable and consistent delivery.

3. Public Transportation Is Becoming a Better Option for Commuters

Drivers don’t battle rush-hour traffic because they want to. They sit in gridlock because they don’t see any better option. New investment in light rail — the relatively new Expo Line through Santa Monica, the extension of the Purple Line into Westwood, the impending Green Line connection to LAX — promise to make public transportation a more convenient and, quite frankly, more reasonable option for Los Angeles area commuters than anyone could have imagined a generation ago. Investment in short-trip shuttle services, bike share networks and electric scooters are further helping to bridge the “first/last-mile” gap between residential neighborhoods and light rail stations.

4. Business Interests Are Organizing to Lobby for Environmental Protections

In direct response to the Trump administration’s push to relax offshore drilling restrictions, residents and businesses who value and rely on the coast have quickly organized to protect it. Earlier this year, the Business Alliance for Protecting the Pacific Coast (BAPPC, pronounced BAY-PACK) hosted an information and networking event in Santa Monica. The group is only a year old and already counts 2,300 business and nonprofit members throughout California, Washington and Oregon. Ecologically conscious clothing retailer Patagonia, which not too long ago launched the digital platform Patagonia Action Works to connect volunteers more easily to environmental causes, is no longer a lonely voice in the wilderness.

5. Coastal Ecosystems Are Bouncing Back Faster Than Anyone Imagined

Build it and they will come. Un-build it, and nature comes back. That’s been the lesson of the LAX Dunes preserve, where native plant and animal species are making a comeback in the footprint of a former residential neighborhood demolished decades ago due to increased airport flight traffic. Between Vista Del Mar and Pershing Drive, you’ll find the California legless lizard and the burrowing owl (listed by California wildlife officials as species of special concern) and native flora like bright yellow beach evening primrose. As fragile as coastal dunes ecosystems are thought to be, the Bay Foundation’s painstaking restoration work on six of 100 acres of the LAX Dunes proves that the planet can and will heal if and when we’re willing to put in the work.