And people didn't hesitate to talk about it. Here are the 20 most popular hashtags on Twitter inspired by environmental progress made in 2015:
Climate change is not a political issue. It’s a people and a planet issue. #ActOnClimate https://t.co/z7yGgERVVn— Climate Reality (@Climate Reality)1451316420.0
Activists ramped up the pressure on world leaders to reach a strong, global agreement on climate change at the UN COP21 Paris climate talks, calling it "our last, best chance" to do so. Climate change received far more attention from mainstream media outlets this year, and according to recent polling, more Americans than ever accept the science on global warming.
I can't even. #BlackFridayIn3Words— Melissa Knowles (@Melissa Knowles)1448297018.0
"My soul went Black Friday shopping. First on the list? Adventure." -Instagram's _gentry__ #OptOutside https://t.co/5yNC03G22b— REI (@REI)1448744407.0
REI made waves when it announced that it would be closing all of its 143 retail locations, headquarters and two distribution centers on both Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday. All 12,000 full- and part-time employees received paid time off as the company encouraged them and everyone else to go outside instead.
This U.S. town plans to #Go100percent #renewables #OffGrid https://t.co/F20s2tJVPA via @ecowatch https://t.co/CFQ5MoArbZ— Climate Council (@Climate Council)1450671726.0
Costa Rica ran on renewables for almost all of 2015. From small towns like Nassau, New York to major cities such as San Diego, Vancouver and Las Vegas, pledges were made to go 100 percent renewable. Sweden vowed to as well. And Hawaii pledged to do so by 2045—the most ambitious standard set by a U.S. state thus far.
It's simple: If we're serious about reducing carbon emissions, #renewables are key to meeting our goals https://t.co/4JPwrCmOLR— American Renewable Energy (@American Renewable Energy)1451064602.0
Renewables had another record-breaking year with solar and wind power growing like crazy—providing more than 5 percent of the nation’s electricity for the first time—and the country’s first offshore wind power project is finally under construction.
Extreme #weather across the globe linked to #ClimateChange and #ElNino: https://t.co/LJghdo3MfJ #Climate #Ocean https://t.co/3byGICtVqW— The TerraMar Project (@The TerraMar Project)1451317580.0
The so-called "Monster El Niño" delivered the globe some powerful extreme weather this year. The World Meteorological Organization's Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said the combination of a record-strength El Niño and climate change is putting us in "uncharted territory." This year will undoubtedly go down as the hottest on record and the UK Met Office has already forecasted 2016 to be even hotter still.
Here, enjoy this street art from #BuenosAires #ShellNo #climatechange https://t.co/mmEQyAenJS— Rebecca Cooke (@Rebecca Cooke)1448548023.0
Activists were relentless in calling for President Barack Obama to revoke oil and gas exploration leases in the Chukchi Sea. In July, 13 Greenpeace activists suspended themselves from a bridge in Portland, Oregon, to block Shell’s ice breaker from leaving the port headed for the Arctic Ocean. The 40-hour standoff ended with a call for Obama to "join the millions of people who are speaking with one voice to say it loud and clear: ShellNo.”
This is what community looks like! Donald Trump has got to go #DumpTrump https://t.co/jV068hvWxc— Alexandra Rosenmann (@Alexandra Rosenmann)1450645915.0
Despite the fact that Donald Trump has maintained his place at the top of polls for months, many Americans loathe the man. Civil rights groups have demanded everyone, including Saturday Night Live, dump Trump.
Don't be fooled by the media. @BernieSanders is winning the hearts and minds of the people. #FeelTheBern @CTDems https://t.co/RxX99UBjtT— OurRev-CT Team (@OurRev-CT Team)1451148462.0
Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign is drawing massive crowds and generating intense passion among his supporters. He has even set the record for the biggest campaign turnout this year. And yet, an analysis by the Tyndall Report earlier this month revealed a so-called "Bernie Blackout" in which major news programs such as ABC Word News Tonight devoted a total 81 minutes this year to Trump’s campaign and just about 20 seconds to Sanders’ candidacy.
The TPP deal was just finalised. Now we have to stop it: https://t.co/DwREfZAeB4 via: @sumofus— Mark Ruffalo (@Mark Ruffalo)1451270204.0
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has rocked 2015 with controversy. It's the largest regional trade accord in history involving the U.S., Japan and 10 other Pacific Rim nations, who all together represent two-fifths of the global economy. The countries reached a final agreement on the accord, but it still needs to be ratified by each participating country. Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune called the agreement a "fast track to disaster" and Sanders vowed to stop the "disastrous" deal.
Does bodywash really have to hurt wildlife? Tell @POTUS to ban microbeads! https://t.co/74wVFrYNCt #BanTheBead https://t.co/WRaqANV2Gr— WCS (@WCS)1450506989.0
Earlier this month, Congress passed the Microbead-Free Waters Act, and Monday, Obama signed a bill that will phase out the manufacturing of face wash, toothpaste and shampoo containing plastic microbeads by July 1, 2017, and the sale of such beauty products by July 1, 2018. This will eliminate a significant source of plastic pollution in oceans.
Fast fashion came under intense scrutiny in 2015 thanks to the work of nonprofits such as Greenpeace and Natural Resources Defense Council, and John Oliver's exposé on the fashion industry. Documentary series such as Sweatshop: Dead Cheap Fashion and The True Cost also helped shine a spotlight on the industry, which one fashion industry executive called the "the second largest polluter in the world … second only to oil.”
#TedCruz Offers @AlGore Some ‘Inconvenient Truths:’ Most Outrageous #ClimateDenier Stunt Yet https://t.co/eY8BKeAaHo https://t.co/Kh0ZOX0xxa— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1449765084.0
Organizing for Action sponsored a Climate Change Fantasy Tournament highlighting climate denial in Congress and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) took the trophy in the Denial Finals. He serves as chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Last winter, he tossed a snowball on the floor of the Senate, claiming he had thereby disproved global warming. Earlier this month during the Paris climate talks, he told a group of deniers that they were doing "the Lord's work."
#droughtshaming Green Valley Ranch Casino 2:20pm Dec24 @lvvwd https://t.co/SlPJjQgaQT— Renee Rhodes (@Renee Rhodes)1451010631.0
We're counting down our top 5 fav moments from 2015! #5 Celebrating #NoKXL https://t.co/LRlSuRukmU photo via @350 https://t.co/2g25tCMslw— Nobel Women (@Nobel Women)1451235742.0
Obama rejected the presidential permit for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline last month. "A head of state has never rejected a major fossil fuel project because of its climate impacts before," 350.org reported. "The president’s decision sets the standard for what climate action looks like: standing up to the fossil fuel industry and keeping fossil fuels in the ground."
A real good overview on #verticalfarming https://t.co/L2M8Oi3L7f #indoorfarming #infarming #agritech https://t.co/UNpR8QIeSV— INFARM (@INFARM)1450778715.0
The world’s largest vertical farm broke ground this summer in Newark, New Jersey. The world’s first hydraulic-driven vertical farm in Singapore can produce 1 ton of vegetables every other day. And Chicago-based FarmedHere, the first organically-certified indoor vertical aquaponic farm, announced it wants to expand to 18 more locations in the U.S.
"I'm not a scientist" became the GOP's tired schtick this year with almost all of the Republican presidential candidates responding this way when asked about the threat of climate change. That led Hillary Clinton to release a hilarious faux-horror video bashing her opponents for their stance a few months ago. And earlier this month, Americans United for Change released a video, “Still Not A Scientist,” a sequel to the Webby Award nominated video “Not A Scientist.”
#SaveThePlanetIn4Words Don't vote for Trump http://t.co/8kDwMoFtI8— Brendan McInnis (@Brendan McInnis)1443103922.0
People took to Twitter to offer their serious and not-so-serious ideas of how to #SaveThePlanetIn4Words. A common tweet: “Don’t Vote For Trump.”
My first #bearselfie of 2015 & hopefully not last! #alaska #bristolbay #katmai http://t.co/ty2BoVzPG3— Louisa Chu 朱功蕾 (@Louisa Chu 朱功蕾)1435881596.0
While "bear selfies" could mean a few different things, here we are referring to the recent phenomenon in which people have been getting way too close to bears, bison and other wildlife in state and national parks. It became such a problem that a park in the Denver area was forced to close for a period of time because people were putting themselves and the local bears in danger.
2015 set to be hottest year on record: UN, by @nina_larson https://t.co/UtcKfwfsBn https://t.co/HBU4ECvon8— AFP news agency (@AFP news agency)1448451963.0
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By Bob Jacobs
Hanako, a female Asian elephant, lived in a tiny concrete enclosure at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo for more than 60 years, often in chains, with no stimulation. In the wild, elephants live in herds, with close family ties. Hanako was solitary for the last decade of her life.
Hanako, an Asian elephant kept at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo; and Kiska, an orca that lives at Marineland Canada. One image depicts Kiska's damaged teeth. Elephants in Japan (left image), Ontario Captive Animal Watch (right image), CC BY-ND
Affecting Health and Altering Behavior<p>It is easy to observe the overall health and psychological consequences of life in captivity for these animals. Many captive elephants suffer from arthritis, obesity or skin problems. Both <a href="https://doi.org/10.11609/JoTT.o2620.1826-36" target="_blank">elephants</a> and orcas often have severe dental problems. Captive orcas are plagued by <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank">pneumonia, kidney disease, gastrointestinal illnesses and infections</a>.</p><p>Many animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.09.010" target="_blank">try to cope</a> with captivity by adopting abnormal behaviors. Some develop "<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2017.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stereotypies</a>," which are repetitive, purposeless habits such as constantly bobbing their heads, swaying incessantly or chewing on the bars of their cages. Others, especially big cats, pace their enclosures. Elephants rub or break their tusks.</p>
Changing Brain Structure<p>Neuroscientific research indicates that living in an impoverished, stressful captive environment <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">physically damages the brain</a>. These changes have been documented in many <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.903270108" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">species</a>, including rodents, rabbits, cats and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">humans</a>.</p><p>Although researchers have directly studied some animal brains, most of what we know comes from observing animal behavior, analyzing stress hormone levels in the blood and applying knowledge gained from a half-century of neuroscience research. Laboratory research also suggests that mammals in a zoo or aquarium have compromised brain function.</p>
This illustration shows differences in the brain's cerebral cortex in animals held in impoverished (captive) and enriched (natural) environments. Impoverishment results in thinning of the cortex, a decreased blood supply, less support for neurons and decreased connectivity among neurons. Arnold B. Scheibel, CC BY-ND<p>Subsisting in confined, barren quarters that lack intellectual stimulation or appropriate social contact seems to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1590/S0001-37652001000200006" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">thin the cerebral cortex</a> – the part of the brain involved in voluntary movement and higher cognitive function, including memory, planning and decision-making.</p><p>There are other consequences. Capillaries shrink, depriving the brain of the oxygen-rich blood it needs to survive. Neurons become smaller, and their dendrites – the branches that form connections with other neurons – become less complex, impairing communication within the brain. As a result, the cortical neurons in captive animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.901230110" target="_blank">process information less efficiently</a> than those living in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/dev.420020208" target="_blank">enriched, more natural environments</a>.</p>
An actual cortical neuron in a wild African elephant living in its natural habitat compared with a hypothesized cortical neuron from a captive elephant. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Brain health is also affected by living in small quarters that <a href="https://doi.org/10.3233/BPL-160040" target="_blank">don't allow for needed exercise</a>. Physical activity increases the flow of blood to the brain, which requires large amounts of oxygen. Exercise increases the production of new connections and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw2622" target="_blank">enhances cognitive abilities</a>.</p><p>In their native habits these animals must move to survive, covering great distances to forage or find a mate. Elephants typically travel anywhere from <a href="https://www.elephantsforafrica.org/elephant-facts/#:%7E:text=How%20far%20do%20elephants%20walk,km%20on%20a%20daily%20basis." target="_blank">15 to 120 miles per day</a>. In a zoo, they average <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0150331" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">three miles daily</a>, often walking back and forth in small enclosures. One free orca studied in Canada swam <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-010-0958-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">up to 156 miles a day</a>; meanwhile, an average orca tank is about 10,000 times smaller than its <a href="https://www.cascadiaresearch.org/projects/killer-whales/using-dtags-study-acoustics-and-behavior-southern" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">natural home range</a>.</p>
Disrupting Brain Chemistry and Killing Cells<p>Living in enclosures that restrict or prevent normal behavior creates chronic frustration and boredom. In the wild, an animal's stress-response system helps it escape from danger. But captivity traps animals with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1215502109" target="_blank">almost no control</a> over their environment.</p><p>These situations foster <a href="https://doi.org/10.1037/rev0000033" target="_blank">learned helplessness</a>, negatively impacting the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/6391686" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">hippocampus</a>, which handles memory functions, and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.02.024" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amygdala</a>, which processes emotions. Prolonged stress <a href="https://doi.org/10.3109/10253899609001092" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elevates stress hormones</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.10-09-02897.1990" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">damages or even kills neurons</a> in both brain regions. It also disrupts the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2005.03.021" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">delicate balance of serotonin</a>, a neurotransmitter that stabilizes mood, among other functions.</p><p>In humans, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">deprivation</a> can trigger <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">psychiatric issues</a>, including depression, anxiety, <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mood disorders</a> or <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1073858409333072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">post-traumatic stress disorder</a>. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-010-0288-3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Elephants</a>, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0050139" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">orcas</a> and other animals with large brains are likely to react in similar ways to life in a severely stressful environment.</p>
Damaged Wiring<p>Captivity can damage the brain's complex circuitry, including the basal ganglia. This group of neurons communicates with the cerebral cortex along two networks: a direct pathway that enhances movement and behavior, and an indirect pathway that inhibits them.</p><p>The repetitive, <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2014.05.057" target="_blank">stereotypic behaviors</a> that many animals adopt in captivity are caused by an imbalance of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2010.02.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">serotonin</a>. This impairs the indirect pathway's ability to modulate movement, a condition documented in species from chickens, cows, sheep and horses to primates and big cats.</p>
The cerebral cortex, hippocampus and amygdala are physically altered by captivity, along with brain circuitry that involves the basal ganglia. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Evolution has constructed animal brains to be exquisitely responsive to their environment. Those reactions can affect neural function by <a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/311787/behave-by-robert-m-sapolsky/" target="_blank">turning different genes on or off</a>. Living in inappropriate or abusive circumstance alters biochemical processes: It disrupts the synthesis of proteins that build connections between brain cells and the neurotransmitters that facilitate communication among them.</p><p>There is strong evidence that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0577-11.2011" target="_blank">enrichment</a>, social contact and appropriate space in more natural habitats are <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-1090.2003.tb02071.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">necessary</a> for long-lived animals with large brains such as <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0152490" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elephants</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/13880292.2017.1309858" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cetaceans</a>. Better conditions <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5543669/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reduce disturbing sterotypical behaviors</a>, improve connections in the brain, and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/cdd.2009.193" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">trigger neurochemical changes</a> that enhance learning and memory.</p>