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Looking back, forward: The environment

2007 will be remembered as the year "green" went mainstream. NBC News' Anne Thompson looks back on the big developments that changed the conversation about global warming during 2007 and what to look for in 2008.
U.S. singer Madonna performs on stage during the British leg of the environment-centered Live Earth concerts at London's Wembley Stadium in July. Anthony Harvey / AP file
/ Source: NBC News

NEW YORK — 2007 will be remembered as the year "green" went mainstream. No longer just the province of "treehuggers" — consumers, corporate America, and politicians from both red and blue states embraced "green" initiatives and ideas.

Whether the motivation was to save money, save the earth, or make green, as in money, the environment took center stage this year. To put it in fashion terms, green is the new black. The question now is will it be another fad or a way of life for all time?

The year that was: 2007

Global warming
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that man is the driving force behind global warming. It found with "very high confidence," a 90 percent chance, that the effect of human activities, such as burning fossil fuels and changes in land use, has been global warming.

The warming, it said, is unequivocal. That conclusion reached early in the year changed the debate on global warming. The argument moved from whether man is having an impact to just how big that impact will be.

Will Greenland melt into the ocean? Are southern Florida and lower Manhattan in danger of going under water? Could the Arctic Circle be ice free in the summer? Will the Great Barrier Reef bleach and die? Skeptics don't buy the apocalyptic scenarios, but other scientists say there is no way to know for certain.

In its final report of the year, the IPCC said current technology or what's in development could reverse the warming trend, but time is running short. To have the least amount of impact on the earth, greenhouse gas emissions would have to peak by 2015, just eight years away.

The greening of corporate America
Xerox reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 18 percent. Detroit, home to the internal combustion engine and the SUV, is trying to change its image. GM is now pushing flex-fuel vehicles, hybrids, and its electric Chevy Volt. GE, parent company of this network, is touting "eco-imagination: " innovations and solutions to environmental problems. Home Depot has startde putting "eco-options" label on products to identify which items have the least impact on the environment.

It's not just about saving money on energy or selling products. The United States Climate Action Partnership, an organization of some of the biggest names in business including Dow Chemical, Dupont, and Johnson & Johnson, has called for federal legislation setting reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions.

Grass roots
California, New York City, Chicago and many other state and local governments are not waiting for the federal government to act. They have started implementing their own environmental policies regarding greenhouse gas emissions, energy and land use. Despite the federal government's resistance, many have adopted the goals set out in the Kyoto Protocol as their own. This is a movement that is truly "locally grown."

Court action
Environmentalists won some big cases this year. The biggest was the Supreme Court's ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does have the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles. The EPA has promised to issue a proposal by the end of the year. The states aren't waiting. Two federal judges ruled this year, that California can establish its own regulations for greenhouse gases from vehicles. Other states want to do the same.

Al Gore’s victory tour
He lost the White House but this year Al Gore won an Oscar and a Nobel Peace Prize for his work as an environmentalist. The green "rock star" organized this summer's Live Earth concert to raise awareness and teach people how to go be environmentally friendly. What will he do next?

Revved up café standards
Congress passed the first increase in Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, or CAFE, in thirty years. Automakers will have to produce cars and light trucks which get an average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020. Car manufacturers at first resisted by then gave in after seeing the writing on the wall.


What to watch in 2008So what can we expect from 2008? Here are the issues and trends I will be keeping an eye on in the new year.

The greening of the presidency
What role will the environment play in the race for the White House? Will a commitment to cut greenhouse gasses help or hurt candidates?

From the drought in the southeastern U.S to availability in China, access to clean, fresh water will continue to be a major issue around the world.

A cleaner Congress
The Lieberman Warner Bill, cutting greenhouse gas emissions and setting up a cap and trade system, made it out of a Senate committee, but can it make it all the way through Congress? Has there been a real shift in the American political will when it comes to global warming?

Olympian feats
Just breathing in Beijing could be a struggle. Despite promises from the Chinese government to provide clean air for the summer Olympics, can it really be done? And could air pollution affect the performance of some of the world's best athletes?

Electric cars
Tesla's hot, all-electric roadster is slated to be delivered in the first quarter of 2008. Can the technology match the dream? Will GM be able to meet its promise of putting the Volt into productions by 2010? Are these truly the cars of the future?

Anne Thompson is an NBC News chief environmental correspondent, based in New York City.