Why I’m Optimistic this Earth Day

22 April 2021
Tim Mealey

2010-2019 was the warmest decade in recorded history.

The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is the highest it has been in 3 million years.

Sea levels are rising three millimeters a year, the fastest rate recorded in 3,000 years.

The effects of the climate crisis are here; planetary alarm bells are getting louder. We have lost momentum due to the COVID-19 pandemic–a humanitarian crisis that showed us irrefutable connections between the natural world and human health and well-being. And from where I sit in the U.S., continued acts of violence against members of Black, Asian, and Indigenous communities and communities of color demonstrate that we are far from achieving racial justice. Climate change impacts are inequitably distributed; low-income people and people of color are facing disasters wrought by climate change in ways that are not yet affecting wealthy White people. Indeed, our planetary and humanitarian to-do list grows longer by the minute.

But to lead in this space requires optimism. To convene leaders and problem solvers to tackle aspects of the climate crisis requires a belief that together we can do this – in addition to requiring copious amounts of patience and stamina! So, this Earth Day, I am leaning into my optimism and focusing on some bright spots. I share the following as examples of some of the progress we are making.

The rise of voluntary carbon markets

For decades, carbon pricing has offered a promising path forward to mitigate climate change. But despite its potential for positive impact, it has gained little traction in the public policy arena.

What does give me a sense of hope is the growing attention to the voluntary carbon market (VCM). New issuances of carbon credits have trebled over the past three years; a recent report estimates that transactions could be worth $5-30B per year by 2030. However, with little regulation or oversight, there have been legitimate criticisms as well as confusion surrounding products and services marketed as “carbon neutral” and corporate claims of being “net zero.”

With funding from the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation and the UK Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy Department, Meridian recently launched the Voluntary Carbon Market Integrity (VCMI) Initiative. The VCMI will be a multi‐stakeholder platform that provides clear and authoritative guidance on how voluntary carbon credits can be used by corporates and other non‐state actors in science-based net‐zero decarbonization strategies.

By creating this platform where stakeholders can connect, coordinate, and amplify shared goals and objectives, the VCMI Initiative has the potential to fully unlock the power of carbon markets—a sign to me that we can, with the right systems in place, reach the global decarbonization goals set forth in the ground-breaking Paris Agreement which the U.S. has recently reentered with a firm commitment from the Biden Administration to cut our emissions by 50-52% of 2005 levels by 2030.

Using data—and equalizing it—to address our world’s most pressing challenges

Data holds the power to facilitate deeper understanding, inform decision-making and accelerate machine learning and artificial intelligence-based solutions to our world’s most pressing challenges. With the right datasets, we can capture, analyze, and utilize information in wholly new ways, optimizing the power of technology for more positive, equitable human impact.

Since July 2020, Meridian has served as the Secretariat of Lacuna Fund, the world’s first collaborative effort to provide data scientists, researchers, and social entrepreneurs in low- and middle-income contexts globally with the resources they need to produce labeled datasets that address urgent problems in their communities. The Fund has since granted over $1 million to six teams unlocking the power of machine learning to alleviate food security challenges, spur economic opportunities, and give researchers, farmers, communities, and policymakers access to superior agricultural datasets in Sub-Saharan Africa. We are humbled to support their work and inspired by the brighter future they envision—and are creating.

Making strides in climate and agriculture

Just this week, the AGree Climate, Food, and Agriculture Dialogue (CFAD)—a diverse and bipartisan group of U.S. producers, food and agriculture companies, and civil society organizations managed by Meridian—submitted two sets of recommendations to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). CFAD members see working lands as critical to mitigating climate change. The group calls on USDA to strengthen its support of research and science for climate-smart agriculture and create a USDA National “Climate Bank” that would finance, incentivize, and account for the climate-related contributions of U.S. agriculture and forestry, including from livestock management. It is exciting to see U.S. food and agriculture engaging around land management strategies that combat climate change—and have important co-benefits for water quality, quantity, and habitat, and more, all while supporting producers.

While no single one of these initiatives are the magic wand that will make our problems disappear, each represents an essential ingredient in a recipe for planetary and human health. We are unlocking innovation and technology while centering people, equity, and community-led solutions—a combination that certainly gives me hope for a more just and healthy future.

Now, more than ever, I understand that racial and gender justice are necessary preconditions to just and equitable climate action. And I would be remiss if I did not mention the rise in sustained activism by young people and people of color who are fighting for a better society and, by extension, a better planet. I am heartened by their commitment, inspired by their actions, and genuinely hopeful and excited for the future they espouse.

So, this Earth Day, I pledge to stay optimistic—to keep believing in the possibility of a better world and to take an active part in creating it. I hope you’ll join me.