In all areas of life things are improving if you look at the things in the world through a lens focused on progress and innovation.
Population growth is slowing while renewable energy development is on the rise. Sustainable organic and local agriculture are more popular than ever; many are rediscovering an interest in gardening food plants.
More people are standing up to evil projects like the keystone XL pipeline and evil companies like Monsanto. Fair-trade is making sure that the wealth is shared more evenly between the "haves" and the people who "made it not in America"
Technology is allowing us to go farther with less energy, vehicles are cleaner in terms of their emissions now. Recycling rates have steadily increased and access to recycling continues to improve. Organic food is gaining mainstream consumer acceptance :)
There are signs of positive changes all around us. Lets focus on those positive changes so that we can make education informed choices that will reshape the future to become safer, smarter, and more sustainable.
Cleaner Coal Arrives
Old Coal Shut Downs
Many old dirty toxic coal-power plants are being closed. While many new coal plants are being built, the new ones are much cleaner burning than the old ones. People will continue to burn coal for heat and power because it is "relatively- compared to oil" abundant. Unlike wind and solar power, burning carbon for energy can produce a steady output of energy 24/7. It is this steady base load power that coal power plants are able to produce that continues to drive their development. New "cleaner" coal power release much less toxic pollution. There are even technologies being developed that will allow for carbon sequestration at coal plants. (the trapping and storage of the CO2 released when coal is burned) Remember that it is easier to clean up the emissions of a few large coal plants than it is to try and clean up the emissions of millions of privately owned vehicles.
See the following article for an example of this kind of news.
Clean Efficient Vehicles Have Arrived
Dozens of models are being developed!
The list of hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and pure electric vehicles grows by the day. Hybrid electric vehicles are now part of the mainstream private transportation choices that people are making. Millions of hybrids are on the roads, and hundreds of millions of miles have been covered by these vehicles. They use between 30% and 70%less fuel than conventional vehicles while releasing 50% to 90 % fewer smog forming emissions. Old inefficient and dirty vehicles are being scrapped out (recycled), and as they leave our roads everyone benefits! Oil use is declining in developed countries as the affluent people who live in these countries start to realize all of the economic, environmental, public health and national security problems associated with importing foreign oil!
Have a look at the list of Clean Vehicles
Fuel Economy Standards Have Also Improved
Work Left Undone
Recycling has become more accessible and more popular. Over the last 45 years recycling rates have been steadily increasing as more business and people came to understand the benefits of recycling. Recycling education became part of mainstream education in most industrialized nations. Even in developing countries, recycling has become an important sector.
While recycle rates have steadily improved, people still throw recyclables into the trash all of the time. Its not just a matter of education, many knowingly choose to throw recycling in the trash because they do not "care" about participating. Fortunately, these people are disappearing as more people become accepting of recycling. Municipal "mixed bin" recycling access has improved domestic recycling rates substantially. There are signs of positive changes throughout the recycling sector.
Have a look at this verbose wiki page on recycling.
Organic Food is Going Mainstream
For So Many Reasons
Taste, Nutrition, Sustainability, Simplicity, A balanced Economy, Improving Public and Environmental Health
I have posted about this topic recently, please have a look!
Even unethical retail monopolies like Walmart are now regularly retailing organic foods, and "more" sustainable products. The cost of organic food has been steadily declining as mainstream consumer acceptance of organic increased production volume, which in turn lowers costs.
As more people choose organic, the more organic foods will become less expensive and more accessible. The organic Dairy milk movement has played a large role in pushing organic foods into the mainstream. Many people became aware of the hormones and antibiotics used on conventional dairy cows, and they learned about how those synthetic chemicals are secreted into the milk: toxic to humans. This caused many people to consider other "dirty" foods with unusually high levels of pesticides or synthetic chemicals. With internet access, people are able to "read about it" , and this has helped inform even more people! The internet has democratized access to the truth about organic so people can get informed in order to start "Thinking About It". Every actions begins with a choice, and ever choice is preceded by a thought, every thought is informed by ideas. Our "reference groups" inform our thinking, choices, actions and behaviors.
Wind is Winning
Converting wind into power with turbines is now the most cost efficient means of producing electrical energy in the grid. The problem of course is that the wind does not blow constantly, and the intermittent nature of wind energy requires power storage. Fortunately Electric vehicles will be able to "store" the grid energy peaks when V2G technology is commercialized into future iterations of vehicles like the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S.
The price of solar power has been on a steady decline for the last 40 years. The technology in solar has also improved. Low cost, high net energy return on investment grid scale solar for example has become possible because of innovations made by companies like Kanarka http://www.konarka.com/index.php/company/about-konarka/
Highly efficient mono-crystalline (shade performance leader) is now a very mature technology. Companies like ITEK also manufacture these panels locally!
Energy Conservation More are Embracing It
In computer science many people have switched from desktops to notebook computers: this can reduce a persons computer energy use footprint by %80 in many cases. Modern desktops are far more power efficient than they were a few years ago. You can build a fairly high performance gaming computer than draws around 160W at idle and under 350W at full tilt gaming: that down from idle High Power Computer consumption of 230W at idle and up to 700W at full output. Chip sizes are shrinking, at the die (lithography level). The transistors in the cores of the chips that power are computer are smaller than ever. Companies like Intel, AMD, ARM (samsung for production), NVIDIA (TSMC) are switching to smaller feature size chips in order to boost performance while also reducing power consumption.
Mobile computers have driven the "Energy Efficient Computing" developments: especially smartphones. A high end smartphone of today has the computational power of a mid range notebook computer from 6 years ago. To get all day battery life out of a smartphone (with wireless connectivity) hardware designers had to develop critical power saving technologies. Later "netbooks" and then tablets further drove the push for energy efficient computer hardware. Now "utrabooks" are the new thing.
Even the servers that serve up the digital clouds that we are sniffing all the time are becoming more energy efficient. This is occurring both at the data center through hardware upgrades, but also in building HVAC technology. Many modern data centers use a chiller system that takes a large loop of cold water (cooled by lower nightime temperatures) and then circulates it into the hot data center during the peak loading times during the day. Many other data centers have large natural gas fuel cells to produce their energy (Bloom Box), while many others are covered in Solar Panels.
Battery life in mobile computing devices is the major driver in energy efficient computer innovations. The cool thing is that these technologies bleed backwards into desktops and servers! So while the tablet and smartphone sector drives die-size shrinking into the sub 20nm space, desktop chips are subsequently endowed with this power efficient technology. Intel's latest Ivy Bridge for example and its upcoming Haswell chips were largely inspired by the ARM processors in our pocket sized smart devices and tablets. The die-shrinking at Intel has a deeper history than this, but it is fare to say that mobile devices are driving hardware development that end up in stationary computers. Even the software is bleeding backwards, as IOS features migrate into OSX and Windows Phone Metro Themes are baked into Windows 8.
LED lighting, coming after several waves of CFL innovations. Light enables our most powerful sensory input system to function. Our eyes and our visual system are amazing: A 22pentflop system of dynamic information processing, the human visual perceptual system is a marvel of biological engineering (evidence of Gods infinite brilliance). We use lights for all sorts of purposes, but most of the lighting energy is applied to illuminate the spaces we inhabit. As the antiquate space heater incandescent lights become less popular, they are being replaced by educated consumers looking to save thousands of dollars on their electric bills with energy efficient lighting technology.
The Energy Star System has been highly successful at partnering public institutions with private companies to develop innovation that benefits everyone. http://www.energystar.gov/