Jenny Howell is the water wise instructor and the executive director of the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society. (Photo submitted)

DOWN TO EARTH: Good environmental stories to think about as we enter 2021

The success of Water Wise led to the creation of Waste Wise, which has its own success stories

By Jenny Howell

Special to the Tribune

If you were listening to the CBC science show, Quirks and Quarks a couple of weeks ago, you may have heard the interview with Dr. Elin Kelsey about the need to spread more hopeful and optimistic environmental stories as the best way forward to combat climate change.

A continuous bombardment of negative stories only switches our brains into ‘hopelessness and doom’ mode, where we become avoidant, which prevents us from engaging and taking the action needed that would actually lead us out of some of the problems humanity is facing.

By feeling hope we actually then create a more hopeful future. This is now the basis of ‘solutions journalism,’ where reporters tell success stories of how issues are being fixed, rather than just relaying the extent of the initial problem.

This makes complete sense to me. We have our own good news story here which I will write more about soon, but the sneak preview is that we now use about 28 per cent less water in Williams Lake than pre-Water Wise (2006), with the same size of population.

The success of Water Wise led to the creation of Waste Wise, which has its own success stories and has spread to other communities. When you can see things improving and changing, my purely anecdotal experience is it encourages further action.

So here are a few more ‘good news’ environmental stories I came across to cheer you up as you deal with a daily bombardment of bad news;

• 17 per cent of the U.S.’s electricity use is now renewable. Wind and solar energy industries continue to thrive and renewables are taking over from natural gas for new electricity in some large competitive markets. (https://rmi.org/clean-energy-is-canceling-gas-plants/)

• Researchers from the University of Valle de Atemajac in Zapopan, Mexico have created a biodegradable plastic from the juice of the prickly pear cactus. It is still at the laboratory stage, but has the potential to become industrially viable. (https://www.forbes.com/sites/scottsnowden/2019/07/14/scientist-in-mexico-creates-biodegradable-plastic-from-prickly-pear-cactus/?sh=6ffdfc3b6c49)

And if that doesn’t work …

• Scientists have engineered an enzyme that can quickly break down PET (water bottles etc) plastic into constituent molecules that bacteria can continue to biodegrade (https://www.pnas.org/content/117/41/25476). This should be commercially available in one to two years and has the potential to revolutionize plastic recycling and remove the dependency of plastic production on the use of fossil fuels.

To add to the good news; I found it difficult to select just four optimistic stories as there are many of them out there. I will continue to include one with each future article and look forward to sharing them with students as we resume our school programs for the winter.

Water Wise Tip: Check out this interactive site that maps world rivers as sources of ocean plastic pollution: https://theoceancleanup.com/sources/.

For more information on Water Wise or Waste Wise and any of our school and community programs, contact the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society at sustain@ccconserv.org or visit the website at www.ccconserv.org.

Jenny Howell is a Water Wise instructor and the executive director of the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society.

Cariboo