In the Not-So-Bleak Midwinter

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Here in North America, today marks the winter solstice, the shortest day (and longest night) of the year — and a time when most of us could use some good cheer to help tide us over until spring. And during this particular midwinter (which is also mid-term for a president who supposedly hates holiday parties because they’re “not about him”), we could all use some reminders that it won’t always be this dark. Because — really! — it won’t. In spite of the Ebenezer Grinch sulking at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, good things do keep happening. To prove it, here are a few highlights from just the past week or so that you can take into 2019.

Last Friday, with a load of compromisin’ on the road to his horizon, Ryan Zinke finally called it quits after leading the Interior Department for 21 destructive, disgraceful months. Like the equally unlamented Scott Pruitt at EPA, Zinke managed to rack up so many scandals that he actually became an embarrassment to what is already the most corrupt presidential administration in history. His overdue downfall sends an important message: We will hold those who betray their responsibility to the American people accountable. Zinke didn’t just act like he worked for the fossil fuel industry — he came right out and said he did.

Speaking of the fossil fuel industry, you’d think they’d be doing better under an administration packed with their former lobbyists. Instead, coal, oil, and gas keep losing — especially in court. Last week, for instance, judges at the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out Dominion Energy’s permit to bury part of its 600-mile-long Atlantic Coast fracked gas pipeline under the iconic Appalachian Trail. That follows recent major setbacks for TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar-sands pipeline, too. The Sierra Club had ambitious goals for opposing these kinds of infrastructure projects this year — and far exceeded them. Thanks to our allies, grassroots activists, and ace legal team, we’ve helped stop or delay an astonishing $29 billion worth of oil and gas projects.

Here’s one reason we don’t need those pipelines: Also last week, California announced that all new city buses must run on electricity beginning in 2029 (and that all city buses would be electric by 2040). That will be the equivalent of converting 4 million cars from gas to electric. It’s not that surprising to see the Golden State leading on clean transportation, but just a few days ago, we learned the East Coast isn’t far behind. Much as we like to win victories against pipelines and drilling projects, it would be much better if they never got proposed in the first place — and that means electrifying our transportation sector asap. By the way, did you know that the one millionth electric car hit the road in the U.S. this year? Perhaps you’ve noticed that during the past two years, virtually all progress on clean energy and climate action in the U.S. has been happening outside of Washington, D.C. Last week, that finally changed — but the current administration and Congress get zero credit. It’s the District of Columbia itself that has taken the initiative. This week, the D.C. Council approved the Clean Energy DC Act in a unanimous vote. It requires that the District. run on 100 percent renewable energy by 2032. That means our nation’s capital joins two states (Hawaii and California) and more than 100 cities in committing to 100 percent clean energy.

Not bad for one week, right? The truth is, we had lots of weeks like that this year, and we’re going to have even more of them next year. And I haven’t even mentioned until now that that the rate at which coal is being replaced by clean energy has accelerated over the past two years. This doesn’t make the terrible policies of the current administration any less terrible, but it’s enough to keep our spirits up until it’s springtime in America again.

Finally, in the spirit of the holidays, I’d like to congratulate our president on one honor he truly did earn this year: having a newly discovered species named after him. To the untrained eye, Dermophis donaldtrumpi might look like a large, shiny worm, but it’s actually a sightless, legless, burrowing amphibian. A blind creature that sticks its head in the ground? Sounds about right. Unfortunately, its rainforest habitat is threatened by climate change. Can we get the president to care about the fate of his new namesake? Perhaps if he can be convinced that it’s really all about him.

Dad, husband, executive director of the @sierraclub, writer, Jersey Shore native, Little League coach, #Yankees fan, climate hawk. Optimist. Love the Bay Area.

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