It’s easier to accurately judge past actions and decisions looking back than when taking those actions or making those decisions. As they say, hindsight is always 20-20.

We are on the cusp of a new year and a new decade. Looking backward, it’s clear that the climate crisis is with us now, not far off in the future. It’s also true that as time passes the crisis becomes more and more acute, demanding stronger actions and bolder decisions. Grist recently published an article that, although it begins with a pretty bleak summary of the past, offers optimism for the future.

The article begins, “Over the course of the past 12 months, evidence of humanity’s blind hurtle toward climate catastrophe piled up: ice sheets crumbled, wildfires swept the world, and we learned one million species face extinction.” But the article quickly pivots to Greta Thrunberg’s appearance on the cover of Time magazine as proof that, “2019 was a momentous year for climate politics” and a sign of good things to come, quoting her as saying, “We’re often told about these negative tipping points, things that we can’t change. There also can be positive tipping points, like when people decide they’ve had enough.”

So, in Greta’s view, having come from being a lone voice as a young climate striker to the Person of the Year in 2019 may signal that when we look back on it, 2019 was a crucial moment in history when the tide turned and enough politicians and other leaders came to their senses and became serious and urgent about facing the challenges of the climate crisis.

What evidence is there for this 180-degree turn? Most compelling is the emergence of an active and insistent voice from young people, those who will experience the future and want it to be safe and healthy. As the Grist article points out, “In 2019, millions of youth activists took to the streets to make it known that they vehemently disapprove of the job adults are doing to curtail rising emissions.” The young folks walked out of school, their parents followed their lead and walked out of jobs. These “climate strikes” took place all over the globe on Fridays throughout the later months of 2019 in cities as diverse as Islamabad, Seoul, Berlin, New York, Seattle and Davis. Rather than slowing, the movement appears to be growing.

The Grist article points to other indicators of positive progress. The climate crisis is for the first time a major topic in our presidential election with a huge majority of Democrats joined by smaller but growing numbers of Republican voters indicating the climate crisis is real and serious. A Green New Deal has become a manifesto of sorts for action all over the planet. More than 11,000 scientists came out from behind their usual posture of just setting out data and letting other people talk about it to instead banding together to explicitly declare a climate emergency that is with us now, not off somewhere in the future.

There are bunches of other positive indicators.

California just hit a milestone of 1 million solar rooftops on homes, schools, government buildings, and businesses, a goal set more than a decade ago. The rebates provided by the state and federal governments, along with regulatory decisions from the California Public Utilities Commission, were intended to, and successful at, driving down the cost of solar systems.

The University of California, in addition to setting ambitious goals for solar and renewables, has recently decided to divest itself from investments in the fossil fuel industry; oil, coal, and natural gas. Tellingly, this is not a decision based merely on trying to be green. They anticipate a better rate of return from investments in solar, wind and other technologies.

The financial industry also appears to be paying attention. 130 banks around the world pledged to align their business with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The Wall Street investment firm Goldman Sachs recently announced it would stop funding coal-fired power plants in developing countries, a policy that previously only applied to plants in the U.S. or other developed nations, and would increase investment in renewables and sustainability by three-quarters of a trillion dollars over 10 years. According to Goldman’s CEO, “Companies have traditionally treated sustainability as a peripheral issue. We don’t have the luxury of that limited perspective anymore.”

In other good news, 12 Eastern states from Maine to Virginia have proposed a cap-and-trade system to curb tailpipe emissions from cars and trucks. The system would require fuel companies to purchase allowances for every ton of carbon emissions their fuel produces and those funds would be put to work in the participating states through investment in trains, buses, electric vehicle charging stations, and other efficiencies in the transportation sector.

So far, this is just a plan, and there’s opposition from fuel companies, who complain, in part, this will cost poor and rural folks more to buy gas. It’s good to know these companies are always looking out for the less fortunate.

So, happy New Year, and here’s hoping for 20-20 vision going forward into 2020.

— John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis. This column appears the first and third Wednesday of each moth. Please send comments to

Crossposted from the Davis Enterprise

Published online on January 01, 2020 | Printed in the January 01, 2020 edition on page A7