Ask Eartha: Environmental success stories from 2020 |

Ask Eartha: Environmental success stories from 2020

Dominique Giroux
Ask Eartha
Carbon dioxide bellows from a coal-fired power plant near Boulder. Xcel Energy has committed to going 100% carbon-free by 2050.
Photo from Shutterstock

Dear Eartha,

It feels like nothing went right in 2020. What environmental success stories can I reflect on to brighten my mood heading into the New Year?

There is no denying 2020 was a tough year. However, while the news was often flooded with anxiety-ridden headlines, there is still a lot to celebrate. In the realm of climate change and environmental action, there were plenty of encouraging headlines we might have missed but can now reflect on to help boost our mood heading into 2021.

Big picture

While most of us couldn’t decide whether we should wear pajama pants or leggings all day, nations around the world made new climate commitments to reduce carbon emissions. China, the largest contributor to greenhouse gas pollution at 28% of global emissions, pledged to reach carbon neutrality by 2060. And yes, making a pledge might not be as convincing as explaining how they’ll achieve it (for example how they’ll tackle the enormous task of kicking coal to the curb), but the country is moving the needle in the right direction. And they are drafting a 2021-2025 plan, which will outline the first steps needed to meet this ambitious goal.

Meanwhile, electric vehicle use is surging. Thanks to technology improvements, lower prices and government subsides, electric vehicles are becoming increasingly accessible — so much so that the U.K. announced it will end the sale of new gas and diesel cars by 2030, leading to improved air quality and economic growth. As other countries and manufacturers pursue vehicle electrification plans, we’ll start to see these benefits across the globe.

Closer to home

Despite numerous environmental rollbacks under our current administration, Congress passed a significant act that should excite all outdoor enthusiasts. The Great American Outdoors Act allocates nearly $10 billion to protect America’s significantly underfunded national parks. The act, primarily focused on long-awaited maintenance across more than 400 national parks, monuments, recreation areas and historic sites, also will fund repair projects on lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Education.

Want to hear something really electrifying? Unable to compete with cheaper electricity, coal-fired power plants across the nation are retiring and converting to natural gas or being replaced by renewables. In fact, between January and June of last year, the U.S. consumed 30% less coal than it did during the same period in 2019. That means cleaner air, especially for those who live in close proximity to these highly polluting plants.

Local progress

In September, Colorado released a public draft of its Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap. The draft outlines steps the state should take to meet goals to reduce carbon pollution 26% by 2025 and 50% by 2030 from 2005 levels. The road map aims to not only address climate change but also to do so in a way that diversifies and strengthens the economy, creates good-paying, local jobs and improves the well-being of communities.

While 2020 surely wasn’t a joy ride, it did provide a lot of time for reflection. And it deserves mention that many Summit County residents used 2020 as a time to take action on their sustainability goals. Here are some accomplishments from your neighbors around the county:

  • 184 homeowners received a home energy assessment to understand how their home uses energy. Of them, 76 completed a home energy upgrade to improve indoor comfort and reduce energy use, saving an average of $524 a year on energy bills.
  • 44 residents installed rooftop solar through the Solarize Summit program, powering their homes with clean, renewable electricity.
  • 630 people started composting food scraps to help keep food waste out of our landfill.
  • 29 businesses joined Resource Wise to reduce energy use, carbon emissions and waste.

While it’s easy to look at these local accomplishments and ponder their broader impact, it’s important to remember that every action we take as individuals keeps us moving toward our larger goals, like those in the Summit Community Climate Action Plan.

So even amid a year when our lives seemed to grind to a halt, people across the globe continued to push forward and take action to create a better future. If we can accomplish all this during COVID-19, just imagine what we can do once this pandemic is in the rear-view mirror!

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at



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