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Photo: Pavel

As children across the nation don their costumes and prepare for a night of tricks and treats, the rest of us are grumbling that it’s only Monday. November is practically upon us, and soon the interminable election season will be over. Supernatural doom and gloom may give way to political malaise, but fear not, Planet Experts brings glad tidings. Good things happened to the planet in October. These five stories are proof.

Earth, as seen from orbit. (Photo via Unsplash.com)

Earth, as seen from orbit. (Photo via Unsplash.com)

5) Global Warming Decreased Carbon Emissions

“Yay…?”

We’ve covered the myriad dangers of global warming in our 5 Worst Environmental Stories of October list, but it’s not without the occasional side benefit. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the record-breaking temperatures in the first half of 2016 actually resulted in less carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels in the U.S. Mild weather, declining coal use and increased use of renewables (wind, solar, hydro) led CO2 emissions to hit their lowest levels since 1991. Overall, the DoE expects 2016 to see the lowest level of energy-related CO2 emissions since 1992.

Cloud, meet silver lining.

An Azuri solar system. (Photo courtesy of Azuri)

An Azuri solar system. (Photo courtesy of Azuri)

4) Africa Is Booming With Clean, Off-Grid Energy

There are some 600 million people in Africa without access to traditional electricity. That’s twice the population of the United States! But there’s a bright LED light at the end of this tunnel. The falling costs of solar energy have enabled 10 percent of these off-grid Africans to light their homes with cheap, renewable power. That’s according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), which reports that home solar systems in Africa can provide households electricity for as little as $56/year! More than 350,000 people are powering their homes and electronic appliances in East Africa alone.

Planet Experts has reported on several innovative companies that are helping to connect and power African communities. You can read about them below:

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. (Photo Credit: Pavel / Flickr)

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. (Photo Credit: Pavel / Flickr)

3) Sydney Divested From Fossil Fuels

This month, Sydney officially voted to divest itself from fossil fuels.

The vote follows a unanimous call by the Sydney city council for a new investment policy that prioritizes clean energy investments over fossil fuels. As the Guardian reported last month:

“After lobbying from members of 350.org, the lord mayor, Clover Moore, moved a minute calling for a new investment policy that would preference sustainable financial institutions and include coal, gas and oil on its list of ‘environmentally harmful activities’ that should be avoided.”

Members of 350.org lobbied the city for two years leading up to the decision. With 56 percent of Sydney’s funds invested in the “big four” banks that support fossil fuels, divestment will not be easy. However, Moore is adamant that the city proceed.

“Climate change is the most important issue of our times,” she said. “We urgently need to reduce our greenhouse emissions and move away from fossil fuels to clean energy – but we are currently frustrated by the market offerings for green investments and the ability of smaller banks without loans to fossil fuel projects to accept more of our deposits.”

Photo Credit: Ruben de Rijcke

Photo Credit: Ruben de Rijcke

2) Germany Said Goodbye to the Internal Combustion Engine

I guess the Germans really took the Volkswagen scandal to heart.

In early October, Germany’s Bundesrat passed a resolution to ban the internal combustion engine in 2030. That’s right – the folks who invented the ICE are now bidding it a fond farewell. In fourteen years (possibly sooner, given higher diesel taxes), only zero-emission passenger vehicles will be approved for use on EU roads.

This is huge news, with the potential to reshape automotive policy for the entire European Union. As Forbes points out, “On its own, the resolution has no legislative effect… However, German regulations traditionally have shaped EU and UNECE regulations.”

It’s difficult imagining U.S. politicians passing such an ambitious regulation, but if Europe shifts to EVs in the next fourteen years, how much more antiquated will American fossil fuel policy appear? Maybe pride will kickstart a zero emission transition where science has failed.

Christopher Columbus, by Sebastiano del Piombo.

Christopher Columbus, by Sebastiano del Piombo.

1) Vermont Ditched Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Yes, the folks who call themselves patriots will no doubt fuss and fume, but let’s be real for a moment. Though Christopher Columbus landing in the New World was a pivotal event in world history, its celebration ignores the horrific brutality that followed.

Calls for replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day have gained steam in recent years, due in part to the growing awareness of Columbus’ true character. In 2004, the Medieval and Renaissance Center at UCLA published the final volume of a compendium of Columbus-era documents that dispel the mythology surrounding the man.

“While giving the brilliant mariner his due,” Geoffrey Symcox, the general editor of the project wrote, “the collection portrays Columbus as an unrelenting social climber and self-promoter who stopped at nothing – not even exploitation, slavery, or twisting biblical scripture – to advance his ambitions. […] The fact that Columbus brought slavery, enormous exploitation or devastating diseases to the Americas used to be seen as a minor detail – if it was recognized at all – in light of his role as the great bringer of white man’s civilization to the benighted idolatrous American continent. But to historians today this information is very important. It changes our whole view of the enterprise.”

Native Americans were forced into slavery to serve colonial Europeans whose lusts were not satisfied in gold and jewels. They were terrorized, tortured, mutilated and murdered, and would continue to suffer systematic disenfranchisement and genocide leading up to the present day.

This month, Vermont became the second state in the union to officially swap Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples’ Day, after South Dakota. Governor Peter Shumlin signed the executive proclamation on October 6. The decree states that, “The State of Vermont recognizes that it was founded and is built upon lands first inhabited by the Indigenous Peoples of this region – the Abenaki and their ancestors and allies – and acknowledges and honors the members of the community, both past and present.”

Though just two states have made the official shift, many cities have already ditched Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples’ Day. According to the Associated Press, celebrations honoring the new holiday took place in at least nine cities this year, including Albuquerque, New Mexico; Anadarko, Oklahoma; Portland, Oregon; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Olympia, Washington. Both Seattle and Minneapolis have also voted to change the federal Columbus Day holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day.

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