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For $5 a month, you can put food on a stray climate writer’s plate

adoptjourno_feature
Hallie Bateman

I’ve written recently about the importance of small news websites to cities, especially during and after natural disasters. These sites, which have proliferated like crazy in the past five years, are filling in some of the holes left by dwindling daily newspapers. The trick, of course, is keeping them afloat.

Well, here’s another approach to funding strong journalism — not publications, per se, but individual writers. It’s called Beacon, and it’s the Adopt-A-Manatee program of the increasingly colorful online news ecosystem.

I first learned about Beacon via an email from a writer and some-time Grist contributor, Josie Garthwaite, who has joined forces with five other journalists to create Climate Confidential, a “micro publication” that publishes weekly stories about the environment and tech. To get the project off the ground, the four were soliciting subscriptions and sponsorships via Beacon — a combination publishing and fundraising platform that's billed as a sort of "Netflix for news."

Since its launch in February, Climate Confidential has raised $45,775, according to Beacon. And I'm getting emails almost weekly from other journalists (and groups of journalists) who are launching their own projects on Beacon and asking for help.

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New Jersey reshuffles Sandy relief dollars, admits to numerous mistakes

Hoboken
Alec Perkins

Remember Bridgegate? No? You obviously weren’t trying to get across the GW Bridge last Sept 9-13. That’s when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration barricaded several lanes, causing massive traffic jams, in apparent retaliation against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not supporting Christie’s reelection bid. (Christie, of course, says he knew nothing about the monkey business.)

Well, Sokolich wasn’t the only one accusing Christie and Co. of political reprisal last year. Another mayor, Dawn Zimmer (D) of Hoboken, wondered out loud if Christie intentionally sent her a shit sandwich by shortchanging her city on Hurricane Sandy relief money. Sandy flooded half of Hoboken with seawater and closed its main transit terminal for weeks, but the state gave the city only a fraction of the relief money it requested. Zimmer suggested it was because she’d refused to back a development project that was being pushed by one of Christie’s top aides.

We may never know if there were political motives behind those decisions, but the state later admitted to making numerous errors when it allocated the relief funds, and this week, it released a revised list of awards, shuffling hundreds of thousands of dollars of grants designed to make communities more resilient to storms. The new grants include $250,000 for Hoboken — the maximum amount now available to an individual city.

It’s a big win for Hoboken, and also for small, community news sites, which, as I wrote last week, are playing an increasingly critical role in the face, and aftermath, of natural disasters.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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Location, location, location

When storms hit, scrappy local reporters rush to the rescue

Damage in the Rockaways.
Reuters / Keith Bedford

With yet another hurricane roaring up the coast, Ned Berke was determined to keep a cool head. The publisher of a small, online news startup in South Brooklyn called Sheepshead Bites, he had seen this routine before: A storm whips up and the media circus begins. Just the summer before, then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg had ordered hundreds of thousands of city residents to evacuate in the face of an approaching hurricane, but while the storm gave the city a good soaking, little damage was done.

“Our approach was, we’re not going to go all alarmist like the rest of the media,” Berke says, thinking back to Hurricane Sandy's approach in late October, 2012. He created a resource page where locals could find information on how to prepare, notices from the city, a storm-related Twitter feed, and a live video of the nearby bay. But the general message to his readers was, don’t freak: “Take care of yourself. Don’t be an idiot.”

Berke was so ensconced in his website, which serves a portion of Brooklyn often ignored by other city media, that he didn’t bother to prepare himself. By the time his girlfriend decided it was time to go to the store to buy emergency supplies, all that was left on the shelves was a tiny pink flashlight, a scented candle, and a bottle of Gatorade.

“I did not take the storm seriously like I was telling everyone else to do,” Berke says.

Not too smart, perhaps, but the result was that Berke got a front-row seat to Sandy’s trouncing of south Brooklyn — a vantage that he used to report (first via his computer, and later, when the electricity and wi-fi went out, by dictating stories to a friend until his cellphone battery died) on the damage done to his community, and later, on the long, slow cleanup process.

Berke is among a breed of small-time media entrepreneurs who are working mightily to fill the void left by shriveling urban newspapers and local TV news outlets. I wrote about these people recently in a feature story for Next City — the latest chapter in an ongoing tale about the changing media landscapes in urban America.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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The economic crash brought Vegas to its knees; climate change could do it again

The Fontainebleau under construction in Las Vegas
Jay Bonvouloir

This is part of a series of stories about Las Vegas and climate change. Find the whole collection here.

Next time you fly into Las Vegas at night, take a close look at the casino-studded carnival in the center of the city. You'll notice something odd. Amid all the glitter, there are a couple of black spots, like patches of dark matter in a star cluster. These are the dead zones, reminders of the 2007 economic collapse that brought this city to its knees.

The largest one is the Fontainebleau Las Vegas, a gleaming, blue-black skyscraper that stands at the north end of the Strip. The $3 billion project was to be the tallest building between Dallas and L.A., a 68-story, 3,889-room hotel-casino that would out-glitz all the rest. It was two-thirds complete when the economy crashed, and time seemed to grind to a halt.

In 2010, billionaire Carl Icahn bought the bankrupt project at a fire sale for $150 million. Since then, it has become an eyesore and a destination for urban explorers. Icahn has been mum about his plans for the development, but the recent disappearance of the construction crane on its roof gives credence to rumors that he plans to dismantle the structure and sell it for scrap, possibly to the Chinese, who seem to still be building skyscrapers.

What a fucking world we live in.

And that’s the thing about Las Vegas. I was in town last month searching for chinks in this city’s armor -- signs that it is vulnerable to climate-driven catastrophe. What I found instead was that the obvious weak spots -- the dearth of water, for example -- are pretty much under control, at least in the near term. The real and present threats to this city are economic ones. If I were a betting man, I’d say Vegas is going to run out of money long before it runs out of water -- and climate change could have a hand in that.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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Sorry, Vegas: You just can’t fake being prepared for climate change

elvis-impersonator-in-las-vegas
Moyan Brenn | Flickr

This is part of a series of stories about Las Vegas and climate change. Find the whole collection here.

This summer, climate deniers will gather for their annual meeting of the twisted minds, the International Conference on Climate Change, organized by the Heartland Institute and underwritten by the good people who brought you climate change in the first place. Their choice for a venue? The beautiful Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nev.

On the surface, it seems like the perfect location. Vegas is built on fakery and denial. It’s a metropolis of 2 million people designed to look like Anytown, U.S.A., never mind the blazing desert at its fringes. The Strip, the metro’s thumping economic heart, is a blow-up sex doll of an urban experience, carefully engineered to make you feel rich even after you've been bilked of your last penny.

But despite all the sleight of hand, Vegas has had to grapple with some thorny realities -- and climate change is bringing more.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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Longtime Vegas water czar warns other cities to brace for climate change

patricia mulroy
Aaron Mayes/UNLV Photo Services

This is part of a series of stories about Las Vegas and climate change. Find the whole collection here.

Patricia Mulroy has been called "the water empress of Vegas.” For 25 years, she lead the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the agency responsible for keeping the taps running in a desert metropolis that was growing like the fat guy in the Monty Python skit. As I wrote yesterday, she was a force to be reckoned with.

Today, Mulroy's name evokes a mixture of hatred and admiration among her fellow western water managers, environmentalists, and rural residents who have long opposed her proposal to import water from eastern Nevada to supplement Las Vegas' main water source -- Lake Mead, a reservoir on the Colorado River.

Mulroy retired from the water authority this winter and lasted all of two months before accepting a dual-position at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., and Brookings Mountain West at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she is a senior fellow for climate adaptation and environmental policy.

I caught up with her recently for a conversation that ranged from climate adaptation to the California drought, rancher Cliven Bundy, and the day she thought Las Vegas had run out of water. Her message, in a nutshell: "I think there are some realities staring us starkly in the face. We need to focus on adapting."

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Las Vegas’ binge drinking days are over. Can it survive the hangover?

bellagio-fountain
Andrew Zarivny

This is the second in a series of stories about Las Vegas and climate change. Find part 1 here.

The next time you stay out late in Las Vegas and inadvertently imbibe a few too many cocktails -- an exceedingly unlikely scenario, I know -- rest easy knowing that help is just a bus ride away. A ride on the hangover bus, that is.

Billed as a “45-foot rolling hangover treatment clinic,” the bus is staffed by a pack of nurses and EMTs under the supervision of Dr. Jason Burke, a board-certified anesthesiologist and founder of a business called Hangover Heaven. Burke’s team will pick you up, slide a tube into one of your veins, and ply you with “intravenous fluids, intravenous antinausea medicine, anti-inflamatories, and a proprietary blend of IV vitamins and antioxidants,” Dr. Burke explained in an interview with Nevada Public Radio.

Call it what you want: The ultimate (nonalcoholic) hair of the dog? A sinister plot to encourage overindulgence and keep us glued to the slot machines? Dr. Burke is no doubt laughing all the way to the bank.

Patricia Mulroy knows something about this sort of game. She played Dr. Hangover for the entire Las Vegas metro area for 25 years as general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which is responsible for keeping the taps running in the city and its suburbs. Those suburbs went on a major building binge in the 1990s and early aughts, and when they ran low on fluids, it was Mulroy’s job to spike another bag, as they say in the ER, and get the construction workers back in the game. She was incredibly good at it.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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Las Vegas burning: Lessons in resilience from the nation’s driest big city

las-vegas-wesley-allsbrook
Wesley Allsbrook

“They’re coming for the burn,” my old friend Adam says.

We’re looking out across the broad, sun-beaten flats, watching the crowds file in. They’ve come across the playas, over the basin and range country, up through the palo verde and Joshua tree forests. They’ve traveled hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles to gawk at the acrobats and the strippers, to ogle the music makers and the magicians, to play voyeur to the entertainers, the eccentrics, and the freaks.

It’s a massive party in the desert, and rising in the center of it all is a huge, spread-legged figure, ablaze in white light.

This isn't Burning Man. This party started long before anyone thought to put a pop-up city in the Black Rock Desert. That figure in front of us is the Stratosphere Tower. The glittering metropolis surrounding it? Vegas, baby. And right now, half the world is flying in for a weekend of debauchery.

From where we stand, looking out the window of Adam's 9th floor apartment in downtown Las Vegas, we can watch a line of airplanes making the final descent into McCarran International Airport. From the opposite direction, a procession of helicopters returns from air tours of the Grand Canyon. They all disappear behind the Strip like insects drawn into a flame.

That’s when Adam quotes the late Randy Udall: “We are the Oil Tribe. And we are in the midst of a great burn.”

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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Burgs & the bees

Habitats for humanity: Why our cities need to be ecosystems, too

singapore-garden-by-the-bay-trees
william

The whole better-greener-more-awesome-cities movement has a problem: We haven’t found a good name for it. Sustainable cities! The term brings to mind such mundanity as energy audits and transit routes. Resilient cities! The notion requires us to consider, first, what horrible shit is coming down the pike. Carbon-neutral cities! Ugh. Don't get me started on that one.

Enter University of Virginia urban and environmental planning professor Tim Beatley with the solution, FINALLY. Here he comes, with the delivery. Wait for it...

Biophilic cities.

Wait, come back! It’s better than it sounds! Biophilic cities are places where animals and plants and other wild things weave through our everyday lives. The name comes from “biophilia,” E.O. Wilson’s theory that humans have an innate connection to other living things, because we evolved alongside them. It’s futurism with a paleo twist: An effort to create human habitat that can also host a menagerie of wild creatures — and not just for their sake, but for ours.

The idea seems to be catching. In October, Beatley helped launch the Biophilic Cities Network, which includes eight cities worldwide, and there are more to come. “Reducing your emissions, hitting people over the head about turning the lights off -- we need to do those things,” Beatley says. “But to motivate people I think we need that vision of where we want to go, not just how much less we want to consume of something.”

Beatley stopped by Grist HQ on a recent swing through Seattle promoting his new book, Biophilic Cities: Integrating Nature into Urban Design and Planning. Here are a few snippets from our conversation, which covered aerial urban trails, our odd relationship with the natural world, and cities that are far greener than the this here emerald one.

Q. How is a biophilic city different than a “sustainable” city or a “green” city?

Tim Beatley.
Tim Beatley.

A. There’s lot of overlap, to be sure. A biophilic city must be resilient and sustainable and all of those things. But it ought to be a dense, rich, urban life in close contact with nature. The idea grows from the theory that we have coevolved with the natural world, that we’re carrying our ancient brains, and we have an innate need to connect with nature.

Read more: Cities, Living

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Congress backpedals, restores cut-rate flood insurance for risky homes

hurricane-damaged-home-sandy
Shutterstock

When the going gets tough, Congress gets weak in the knees. That's the lesson we can take away from the recent fracas over reforming government-subsidized flood insurance -- insurance that has encouraged people to build (and rebuild) in increasingly flood-prone areas along rivers and coasts.

In 2012, more than 400 members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted for the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, sending a clear message to homeowners that if they were going to live in risky places, they would have to shoulder more of the cleanup costs when disaster inevitably struck.

This week, 306 representatives voted to roll back some of those reforms. Yesterday, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to do the same. The White House says President Obama will sign the bill.