Like any year, 2015 had its share of good and bad, tragedy and beauty, hope and despair. It's difficult not to get discouraged by events like the Syrian war and refugee crisis, violent outbreaks in Beirut, Paris, Burundi, the U.S. and so many other places, and the ongoing climate catastrophe.
But responses to these tragedies and disasters offer hope. It became clear during 2015 that when those who believe in protecting people and the planet, treating each other with fairness, respect and kindness and seeking solutions stand up, speak out and act for what is right and just, we will be heard.
As Syria descended deeper into chaos during 2015, people in many wealthy nations called for blocking refugees. But many more opened their hearts, homes, and wallets to show compassion. Governments responded by opening doors to people who have lost everything, including family and friends, to flee death and destruction.
Shootings and the inevitable absurd arguments against gun control continued south of the border, but many people, including the president, rallied for an end to the insanity. And while the U.S. presidential race remains mired in bigotry, ignorance, and a dumbfounding rejection of climate science, many U.S. citizens, including political candidates, are speaking out for a positive approach more aligned with America's professed values. And in 2015, voters here and elsewhere rejected fear-based election campaigns that promoted continued reliance on climate-altering coal, oil, and gas.
The fossil fuel industry and its supporters continued to sow doubt and confusion about the overwhelming evidence for human-caused climate change and to rail against solutions, but many more people marched, signed petitions, sent letters, talked to friends and family, demanded action from political, religious and business leaders, and got on with innovating and implementing solutions.
The public appetite for a constructive approach to global warming led Canada to shift course in 2015, taking global warming seriously enough to make positive contributions at the Paris climate conference in December. The resulting agreement won't lower emissions enough to prevent catastrophic warming, but it's a significant leap from previous attempts, and it includes commitments to improve targets.
If we want to heal this world we have so badly damaged, we must do all we can. Although many necessary and profound changes must come from governments, industry and other institutions, we can all do our part. For the climate, we can conserve energy, eat less meat, drive less, improve energy efficiency in our homes and businesses, and continue to stand up and speak out.
Those who fear and reject change have always been and always will be with us. They've argued ending slavery would destroy the economy; they've claimed putting people on the moon would be impossible; they've rejected ending South Africa's apartheid system; they've said the Berlin wall wouldn't come down.
With today's technological and communications advances, everyone with access to the Internet can be heard. That's good, but people who fear they have something to lose often speak loudest, and in the greatest numbers. I tell people at the David Suzuki Foundation, "Don't read the comments!" It's often disheartening to see online discourse sink to such irrational and often idiotic depths.
But many comments and efforts to stall or block necessary progress arise from fear. People who are afraid that change might remove or diminish their privilege -- real or imagined -- often do or say anything to block it. Unfortunately, those who benefit most from privilege or the status quo, even if only in the short term, often stoke those fears and uncertainties, taking advantage of and manipulating the frightened and ignorant for political or economic gain.
That's not to say people must always agree. But racism, sexism, homophobia, religious prejudice, the denial of climate science and solutions, and blindness to the need for gun control are all irrational.
We can and must speak louder than those who would keep us on a destructive path despite the overwhelming evidence that it's past time to shift course. Events in 2015 taught us that when those of us who care about humanity and the planet's future stand up and speak out, we can make this small, blue world and its miraculous life and natural systems a better place for all.
Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.