Good: Victory at Standing Stone
After months of protest, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in December announced that construction on the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline would be halted. The estimated $3.8 billion pipeline would have carried 470,000 barrels of crude oil a day from western North Dakota to Illinois, where it would connect with an existing pipeline. But protesters halted the building of a section that would go beneath Lake Oahe, threatening the Standing Rock reservation's supply of drinking water and putting sacred Native American sites at risk. Despite the success, protestors remain at the Standing Stone camp, concerned that the battle is far from over, and that the incoming administration will reverse the decision.
Bad: Wildfires Wreak Havoc Across North America
The western and southeastern United States, and parts of western Canada, were among the areas to experience massive wildfires in 2016. In Alberta and Saskatchewan, fires that at one point burned as high as 1,800 degrees F (1,000 degrees C) spread over an area in excess of 2,300 square miles; they started on May 1 and were not brought under control until July 4, although they are still smoldering. In California, a total of 6,938 fires fed by warm temperatures and dead trees swept through almost 1,000 square miles over the summer. And in the southeastern United States, fires apparently ignited by arson and nurtured by warm, dry conditions, burned more than 150,000 acres across Appalachia.
Good: World's Largest Marine Park Designated in Antarctica
Twenty-four countries and the European Union agreed in October to establish the world's largest marine protected area in Antarctica's Ross Sea, with 425,000 square miles being set aside as a "no-take" zone where fishing is prohibited. The Ross Sea is home to 38 percent of the world's Adélie penguins, 26 percent of Emperor penguins, more than 30 percent of Antarctic petrels, and six percent of Antarctic minke whales.
Bad: Vaquita Is Closer to Extinction – and So Are Plenty More Species
Despite ongoing efforts to protect it, the vaquita - a tiny porpoise found only in the northern Gulf of California - now numbers a grand total of just 60 individuals, according to scientists; at its present rate of decline, it may become extinct by 2018. Nor is it alone: Meanwhile, giraffe populations are crashing, climate change caused hundreds of local extinctions in 2016, millions of U.S. trees are dying, one in five plant species is threatened with extinction, and even a species of bumble bee has been declared endangered.
Good: Paris Agreement Comes into Effect
A worldwide pact to battle global warming entered into force in November. Dubbed the Paris Agreement after the city in which it was agreed last December, it had at the time of its coming into effect been ratified by 94 countries representing 66 percent of global CO2 emissions. The agreement theoretically commits its signatories to limiting the increase in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees F) - although there is concern that the present level of commitments, even if adhered to, are only sufficient to cap that warming at 2.7 degrees C (4.9 degrees F).
Bad: New US President-Elect Doesn't Believe in Climate Change
Saving the worst for last: the United States has just elected a president who not only has said he would like to withdraw the country from the Paris agreement, but has stated that climate change is a hoax invented by China. And while he has since said that was a hoax and insisted he was keeping an open mind on the issue, his incoming Chief of Staff has said that the president-elect's default position is that most climate science is "a bunch of bunk."
So long, 2016. And buckle up, folks. 2017 is going to be a heck of a ride.