As effects of climate change, a growing human population, and changes in the political arena usher us into the new year, these seven major stories set 2015 apart and herald optimism for 2016 and beyond.

1. The world comes together on battling climate change. The COP21 meeting was perhaps the most important UN gathering for our future generations. Though no legal agreements were reached, the conference brought the international community together to take a hard look at climate change, from the worst polluters (like the U.S.) to tiny island nations facing the worst consequences. Demonstrations around the world inspired over 500,000 people to march, protest, and call for world leaders to take action. Though many are skeptical about the possibility of this deal being enough to avoid a climate disaster, it’s the best chance we’ve got.

March Signs

2. The Green-Social-Global-Equality-[fill in the blank] movement has arrived. Journalism and activism are shifting. No longer are issues like environment, politics, social justice, and terrorism so separate. Though connections have been made for decades, a clear convergence amongst activists and recognition by journalists of the interwoven nature of the problems facing the world is emerging.

3. A Pope’s call to action. In another convergence in the arenas of society, Pope Frances has pleaded for leaders and individuals to do what they can to combat climate change and care for the Earth. From chastising deniers to creating a Catholic Earth Day, one of the most influential spiritual leaders in the world is encouraging humanity in the “care [for] creation.”

pope-francis

4. Climate denial is so last year. A major Republican contender for the 2016 Presidential bid, Jeb Bush, concedes that climate change is real and caused by human actions. A Yale study found that a majority of Republican and Republican leaning voters agree and are supportive of clean energy. Deniers are still out there and their voices, though dwindling, will most likely only become stronger as time goes on and the changing climate becomes more obvious.

5. What Exxon Knew. An investigation by InsideClimate News revealed that ExxonMobile has known about climate change since the 1970s. Not only did they hide this knowledge, they funded climate-denying organizations. Many weren’t too surprised, but the implications of a company having so much power over the future of civilization is frightening.

exxon climate change

6. Keystone Pipeline: time to say goodbye. After seven years of discussion, reporting, protests, political fights, actual fights, the proposed pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico was denied by President Obama. A huge win representing the shift towards focusing on clean energy for the country and the world.

7. Food security comes into question. Does your stomach rumble at just the thought? I noticed food security in the news more than ever in 2015. Whether it is climate change, loss of bees, overfishing, overpopulation, or a combination of issues, leaders and individuals are starting to prepare for the worst: dealing with hunger. What could the future look like? An interactive website created by the World Food Programme gives an idea.

drought