Year in Review: Top 10 Environmental Stories of 2010

This, the first year of a brand new decade, whizzed by in a flurry and a flash but not without plenty of environmental activity. We had floods and food recalls, earthquakes and Academy Awards, plus plenty of strange weather. 2010 was a busy year for the environment. But was it a year that planet loving people want to remember or repress? Maybe a little of both.

Here’s our list of the top 10 environmental stories of 2010:

1. BP Oil Spill. It is considered the worst oil spill of all time and the largest environmental disaster the U.S. has ever faced. The Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20, killing 11 and before it was capped in mid-July, nearly 5 million barrels of oil were released into the Gulf of Mexico. Clean up efforts are still underway to restore beaches and marshlands devastated by the disaster.

2. Global warming hits record high. Temperatures reached record levels in several regions of the world during 2010, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says. The year is likely to be among the warmest three on record. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2010 could be the hottest year since record keeping began in 1880. As much as many feel the need to debate the facts, these finding only emphasize that global warming is not going away.

3. Death of U.S. Climate bill. The Congress failed to pass a law in 2010, and now, with a newly elected Republican Congress in place, the path might prove to be even more difficult. But the UN Environment Summit talks in Cancun, Mexico have proved to be encouraging. Time will tell.

4. Obesity reaches epidemic proportions. In August, the Center for Disease Control announced “the number of U.S. states reporting a 30 percent obesity rate has jumped from zero to nine.” Efforts are being made to educate and inform – now most chain restaurants are required to provide caloric information on their menus. But it clearly isn’t enough. And weight loss drugs aren’t the answer either, because the fact remains that 95 percent of people who lose weight, gain it back.

5. Californians Kill Prop 23. In 2006, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill that set out to decrease the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. Proposition 23 would have overturned that bill. It was a major focus of the November elections – oil companies spent millions to support it and clean energy advocates were vehemently opposing it, even the L.A. Times came out against it.

6. Growth of local food marketing. According to the USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service, the number of operating Farmers Markets in the U.S. has increased by 16 percent from last year. And the increase has been consistent over the past six years. This is good news for local growers and may even help lower the cost of organic foods.

7. Congress passes Child Nutrition Act. Childhood obesity affects 1 in 3 children. Thanks to the efforts of parents and people like Jamie Oliver and Michelle Obama, President Obama signed into law the first upgrade to school nutrition standards in 30 years. The initiative will make it harder for kids to buy junk food on school property, make school lunches healthier, and increase the amount of school food grown on local farms. Plus it will provide more free and reduced-priced meals to families in need.

8. The electric car goes mainstream. 2010 saw the launch of the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf, a major step toward electrifying the U.S. car market. The Leaf was already sold out before its wheels even hit U.S. soil. Let’s hope the forward momentum continues in 2011.

9. Chelsea Clinton serves vegan wedding dinner. The vegan meal made headlines this past July, but the hoopla didn’t stop there. President Clinton then made bigger news by revealing his switch to a mostly vegan/vegetarian diet and talking about the many health benefits.

10. First U.S. offshore wind farm approved. It has taken 10 years of studies and analysis, but it looks as though Cape Wind will finally be built off the coast of Massachusetts. (In addition, the Department of the Interior (DOI) created a proposal that will make it easier for the next wind farm to be approved with fewer delays.) Cape Wind is expected to create enough electricity to power much of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Island combined. The DOI reports:

“…the project would create several hundred construction jobs and be one of the largest greenhouse gas reduction initiatives in the nation, cutting carbon dioxide emissions from conventional power plants by 700,000 tons annually. That is equivalent to removing 175,000 cars from the road for a year.”

For all the disappointments 2010 brought concerning the environment, let’s focus on the fact that the forward momentum remains constant and steady. Here’s to a happy, healthy and planet-focused 2011.

Images: Discover, VOANews, Reuters, Vegan Soapbox, TSL, the Daily Green, Jamie Oliver, Wikipedia, mnn, andjohn.