Good as news: positive environmental stories you may have missed this week

For Immediate Release.

The Public Interest Network’s Environment America and U.S. PIRG are working on multiple campaigns to help America get through the coronavirus pandemic as quickly and safely as possible. But we're also working to ensure that when the outbreak ends, the United States’ policies and practices ensure a cleaner, safer, better world for all of us. 

This weekly newsletter will highlight recent good news on the environmental front. If you have suggestions or comments, please email Ian Corbet (ian.corbet@publicinterestnetwork.org) or Josh Chetwynd (josh.chetwynd@publicinterestnetwork.org). 

President Biden makes important strides in climate action

President Joe Biden released a far-reaching plan Wednesday that outlines the actions his administration will take to tackle climate change both domestically and internationally. With the scientific target squarely in focus -- reaching net zero emissions by 2050 in order to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius -- the new administration laid out  a roadmap for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in sectors across society, from agriculture to manufacturing. Notably, the announcements included the creation of a National Climate Task Force; recommitting the United States to international climate leadership; hosting a global summit on Earth Day, April 22; and preserving public lands and oceans by pausing oil and gas leases. 

“Americans have been working for years to move our country to cleaner and healthier energy sources like wind and solar,” said Andrea McGimsey, senior director for Environment America’s Global Warming Solutions campaign. “But time is running out, and what’s seemed like a marathon for so many must now become a sprint. Thankfully, President Biden’s bold and ambitious climate action plan is the type of galvanizing vision that can get us moving faster toward a better future for ourselves and our grandchildren. We are grateful to the Biden administration for taking this kind of leadership on climate action within a week of entering office.” 

President Biden makes historic pledge to protect America’s natural heritage

As part of executive orders issued Wednesday, President Biden also announced a stop on all new drilling in public lands and waters. The president also set a goal of protecting 30 percent of U.S. lands and oceans by the year 2030. These announcements will fulfill two campaign pledges and serve as part of a larger commitment to conserving nature and addressing an impending extinction crisis. The commitments come at a dire crossroads, as America is losing two football fields’ worth of land and water every minute and many iconic animals native to America are now endangered or threatened

On the order stop to new drilling:

“This order is an important advancement toward protecting our ocean life and our coastal communities,” said Kelsey Lamp, director of Environment America’s Protect Our Oceans Campaign. “For generations we’ve seen that oil drilling leads to spilling, and that puts whales, dolphins, sea turtles and other marine life at risk. The expansion of drilling to new parts of our ocean would have exposed ocean habitats and beloved beaches to the risks of oil spills, and put more coastal communities in the pathway of pipelines and oil barges. President Biden’s decision will keep more of our coasts safe from these unacceptable risks.”

On the commitment to 30x30:

“President Biden gets it. America the Beautiful is full of wondrous places and requires the steady hand of stewardship to keep it that way,” said Environment America Public Lands Director Ellen Montgomery. “It’s part of who we are, and, as a result, it’s unsurprising that Americans support safeguarding wild places. By committing to protecting 30 percent of our lands and oceans by 2030, President Biden is giving his fellow Americans a clear vision of how we can keep our little stretch of the planet intact for future generations."

General Motors pledges carbon neutrality by 2040

General Motors announced Thursday that it plans to minimize carbon emissions from its global products and operations enough by 2040 that it will be carbon neutral. The company also signed the Business Ambition Pledge for 1.5 degrees Celsius, aligning its emissions targets with the Paris Agreement’s standard to mitigate global warming. To reach these lofty, yet necessary, goals, GM aspires to eliminate tailpipe emissions from new light-duty vehicles by 2035. Environment America and U.S. PIRG have been calling for all automakers to only sell electric new cars by 2035 through our Destination: Zero Carbon and Transform Transportation campaigns. 

“Setting science-based targets is a fundamental step to reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions,” said Wendy Wendlandt, acting president of Environment America. “Kudos to GM for signalling its ambition to reach destination zero carbon. But aspirations mean little without actions, and every automaker, including GM, will need to stop selling gas-powered cars no later than 2035 for us to avoid catastrophic climate change. We will keep pushing the entire auto industry to innovate as fast as possible to protect our future.”

What else we’re celebrating:

  • New right whales births up to 14: This season’s baby count for North Atlantic right whales is up to 14, with the latest calf spotted off the coast of Florida this past week. All the newborns have been seen swimming close to their mothers along the southeast coast these past few weeks, delighting observers and raising awareness for this critically endangered species. The right whale population is estimated to be less than 400in total, and the species continues to face threats from fishing gear entanglement.

  • Texas city to add more than 30 miles of bike lanes: The Tyler, Texas, city council approved a project to add approximately 35 miles of bicycling lanes. The proposed lanes will allow cyclists a safer area to ride and connect more of the city to the downtown area. Increasing bike lanes allows for healthier and more sustainable options to travel. They also help lower traffic and carbon emissions.

  • Endangered bongos born in Florida zoo: The Jacksonville Zoo announced this week that two eastern bongo calves were born at the zoo in the past two months. The births are exciting news for conservationists of the critically endangered species as eastern bongos, which resemble a cross between a cow and an antelope, number only 100 individuals in the wild in their native Kenya. The two new calves are both female and were born to first-time mothers at the zoo.

Looking for even more uplifting environmental content?

Environment America recently launched our Greener Together project. As people are practicing social distancing, the project aims to help us all foster a stronger connection with the natural world and with each other. The initiative includes engaging events, fun activities and helpful guides for both adults and children. 

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Environment America is a national network with affiliates in 29 states. Our staff and members work to protect the places we love, advance the environmental values we share, and win real results for our environment. 

U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups, is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.

U.S. PIRG and Environment America are part of The Public Interest Network, which operates and supports organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world and a strategic approach to getting things done.