Eye on Earth: 2008 in Review

From promises of "green jobs" on the U.S. campaign trail to record-setting global investments in renewable energy, the year was marked by an international mobilization to address the world's most daunting environmental challenges and forge a green economy. While the science is clear that the time to address catastrophic climate change is now, a turbulent year - including food crises, natural disasters, and financial ruin - demonstrated the difficult road ahead.

Here is a collection of some of the major sustainability news stories from throughout the year, as well as some of the best ideas for a more sustainable 2009 and beyond.


India traffic jamJanuary

Transportation: Indian auto manufacturer Tata unveiled its $2,500 "people's car," the Nano, raising concerns about more crowded roads and rising vehicle emissions.

Read More: Analysis: Nano Hypocrisy?

A Green Deal for Transportation

Consumption: China banned certain types of plastic bags and prevented retailers from handing out free plastic bags in general, as part of a campaign to fight "white pollution" in the country.

Plastic Bag Ban Trumps Market and Consumer Efforts 

New Bans on Plastic Bags May Help Protect Marine Life



Energy: New studies revealed that biofuels can release more carbon dioxide than they save if natural carbon-sequestering habitats were converted to cropland to grow them.

Opinion: Time to Move to a Second Generation of Biofuels

U.K. Biofuels Sources Are Largely Unknown



Energy: The price of oil passed the all-time inflation adjusted peak of $103.76 set in April 1980, three times the price four years prior. Oil prices later fell dramatically as financial turbulence swept the globe. 

Oil Prices Hit All-Time Record

oil rigDesign: The North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation called for greater continental collaboration for green building design. 

North American Commission Pushes for Green Building Design

Water: The bottled water industry estimated its U.S. market would grow 6.7 percent in 2008 - the smallest increase this decade. International campaigns against bottled water helped slow consumer demand. 

Bottled Water Demand May Be Declining



Climate: Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore launched the Alliance for Climate Protection to "ignite" Americans into taking action on global climate change. He later calls for the U.S. to supply all of its energy with renewable sources by 2018. 

Gore Launches Climate Change Awareness Campaign 

Opinion: U.S. Environmentalists Finally Have A Leader

Agriculture: Two highly anticipated studies called for more sustainable food production, singling out the spread in desertification, chemical pollutants, and animal waste run-off.

International Commission Calls for ‘Paradigm Shift' In Agriculture

Report Calls for Better Animal Waste Treatment



Natural Disasters: Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar and a 7.9 magnitude earthquake in China's Sichuan province each killed some 70,000-80,000 people, continuing the trend of more frequent devastating disasters. 

Are Myanmar's Storm Victims Suffering Needlessly? 

Natural Disasters Becoming More Frequent

Food aidForests: Brazilian environment minister and rainforest activist Marina Silva resigned after facing ongoing struggles with the Lula administration over Amazonian forest policies. 

Amazon Leader Ends Her Embittered Era 

Amazon For Sale (a three part series) 

Deforestation Escalates in Shrinking Amazon



Agriculture: The World Food Programme announced it will provide $1.2 billion in additional food aid for the 62 countries hit hardest by the food and fuel crisis.

World Bank President Proposes "New Deal" for Food Aid

Climate: Twenty years after NASA scientist James Hansen delivered his groundbreaking Senate testimony on climate change, Hansen called for the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions to 350 parts per million. 

The 20th Anniversary of the "Hansen Hearing" series 

Guest Opinion: Global Warming Twenty Years Later



Governance: An internal review said World Bank investments fail to give enough attention to long-term sustainability and place uneven emphasis on economic benefits of environmental preservation. 

World Bank Struggles to Prioritize Sustainability

Wildlife: China won the right to make a one-off purchase of registered elephant ivory stocks from four African countries, under strict conditions. 

DNA Forensics May Prevent Elephant Poaching



Green jobWater: Throughout the International Year of Sanitation, activists heightened awareness for the 2.5 billion people worldwide who lack access to improved sanitation facilities. 

Water Advocates Speak Out for Improved Sanitation

Economy: U.S. presidential campaigns throughout the summer discussed one of the year's most talked about ideas: green jobs. High quality employment in environmentally sustainable sectors became the promise of political leaders worldwide. 

Green Jobs Find International Support

Greening of Labor series



Energy: A new study announced that U.S. installed wind capacity exceeded 20,000 megawatts - enough electricity to serve 5.3 million American homes - making the country the world leader in wind power capacity.

U.S. Renewable Energy Growth Accelerates

Marine Life: The European Commission announced that its fisheries policy needs an overhaul due to continued ecological decline and unsustainable fishing practices.

European Fisheries Law Undergoes Review 

Conservationists Push to Protect Marine Areas

Agriculture: U.S. researchers searched for innovative, clean water sources to sustain aquaculture operations. Efforts include springs from former coal mines and piped water from city reservoirs. 

U.S. Fish Farms Tap Former Coal Mines for Water 

New Fish Farms Move from Ocean to Warehouse


Coral reef


Energy: The U.S. government allowed a longstanding ban on offshore drilling to expire, opening most of the country's coastline to oil and gas leasing and exploration.

Opposition to Offshore Drilling May Fade

Wildlife: The International Union for the Conservation of Nature declared that more than a third of the world's species are threatened with extinction. 

Global Species Survival "In Crisis," Red List Says 

Coral Reef Loss Suggests Global Extinction Event

Agriculture: The local food movement moved closer to home as more urban residents raised chicken in their backyards or balconies - sometimes illegally - while lobbying to change their cities' poultry bans.

U.S. City Dwellers Flock to Raising Chicken



Governance: U.S. voters elected Barack Obama to be their next president, with expectations of a new direction on energy and environmental issues, especially climate change. 

Obama: "Change Has Come to America"

Energy: A consortium of European governments announced the creation of the world's first International Renewable Energy Agency. 

Europeans Form Renewable Energy Agency

Low-Carbon Energy: A Roadmap




Climate: International negotiators congregated in Poznań, Poland, to lay the groundwork for next year's summit in Copenhagen. Commitments from developing countries Brazil, Mexico, South Korea and South Africa to reduce their emissions highlighted the event. 

Opinion: From Deadlock to "Yes We Can"

Reports from Day 1Days 2-3, Midway, Days 6-7, and the Conclusion. 

Transportation: U.S. automakers promised to produce more fuel-efficient vehicles as a precondition for billions of dollars in government aid amid a worsening economic recession. 

Automakers Go Electric