Because it's Earth Summit week and therefore a dandy time for such things, House Republicans are back to the game of promoting the Keystone XL pipeline.
That, you'll recall, is a project to transport massive amounts of oil from the tar sands of Alberta across the U.S. to the Gulf of Mexico for refining and, mostly, export. After many protests, much gnashing of conservative teeth, and a convoluted game of legislative and regulatory chess, the pipeline is, for the moment, dead.
Cue the resurrection music, maestro. As they have many times before, the GOP firebrands in the House, in an effort to force the Obama administration's hand, set out this week to mandate automatic approval of the pipeline by tacking an amendment onto some other bill. Only this time, there was a small hitch.
A "Twitterstorm" isn't something out of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds; it's a global campaign to raise a ruckus on Twitter by deliberately spreading a message -- in this case, the call to end fossil fuel subsidies, or #endfossilfuelsubsidies, as the hashtag call will go out.
Organizers are building a smart network of influential Twitter users to seed their storm. On the eve of the Rio+20 Earth Summit, they're aiming to break the record for most tweets of a single hashtag in a 24-hour period. As 350's Jamie Henn writes:
Justin Bieber currently holds the world record with 322,224, over 223 tweets a minute. Organizers are confident that even if they can’t beat the Biebs they’ll be able to generate enough traffic to dominate the online airwaves during the G20 and in the lead up to Rio+20.
Now, I can already hear the skeptic complaint: How can competing with Justin Bieber possibly be a good use of activist time and energy? Can Facebook and Twitter really spark meaningful political change? Using social media as a platform for activism risks opening yet another round of the debate on this topic that has sputtered for most of the past decade, and that recently peaked with the Arab Spring.
When you look closely at what these groups are doing with Twitter, however, you see very quickly that there's nothing simplistic or utopian about it:
Twitter connects world leaders, opinion makers, and regular activists all on one network. If we work together and aim high, we can make sure the right people see and hear this grassroots uprising. We don’t believe the internet will save the world -- we believe that people will. Now let’s use this digital bullhorn to make some noise.
It's not as though 350.org thinks, "If you tweet it, you're done." Remember, this is the same outfit that organized one of the largest civil disobedience campaigns in U.S. history, stopped the Keystone XL pipeline in its tracks, and circled the White House with a human chain of protest. (Full disclosure: 350.org founder Bill McKibben is a longtime member of Grist's board, and also a friend.)
These people understand that online organizing is a means to an end, not a magic wand. But they also understand that Facebook and Twitter are highly effective in their own way both at reaching people, particularly younger people, and at leveraging media attention.
It's been a bumpy road for Lisa Jackson through three and a half years as chief administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But the 50-year-old chemical engineer doesn't look fazed or fed up. A scientist-turned-insider who has learned that the levers of power don't always budge without a fight, she shows a little steel in her eyes as she ticks off achievements and notes setbacks. But she also lets mischief color her laugh as she acknowledges what she calls the "toxic attitude of absolute certainty" that paralyzes progress on climate and other issues.
In 2009, President Obama appointed Jackson to lead the EPA, the agency she'd worked at for 16 years before serving in New Jersey's environmental agency, where she became commissioner in 2006. Jackson took the EPA helm at a moment of high hopes for green advocates in the U.S. They'd spent eight years in George Bush's wilderness; now they felt they were on the verge of passing climate legislation at home and a global carbon accord at the Copenhagen talks.
What could go wrong? Only everything.
Today progress on climate at the federal level seems less likely than ever. Certainly, Jackson can point to a passel of signal achievements: she has reinvigorated the agency, presided over a plan to double automobile fuel-efficiency standards over the next decade, established EPA's right to regulate greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide as pollutants, and placed new controls on mercury and other toxic power-plant emissions.
But Jackson has also watched as the faltering economy and a partisan civil war in Congress have placed environmental issues on a low-simmering back burner -- and placed EPA itself in the crosshairs of an increasingly radical conservative movement that aims to defang, defund, and ultimately destroy it. Even if it dodges that bullet, her EPA must use the narrow statutory authority of a handful of increasingly outdated laws to tackle an endlessly multiplying set of problems. Meanwhile, new laws are out of reach, and old-fashioned regulations get held hostage to competing agendas: Her agency's proposal to tighten ozone standards met sudden death at the hands of the White House that had appointed her.
Jackson has stuck to her post, despite rumors that she might resign in the wake of that ozone reversal. At the end of last week, she visited Seattle to drop in on Boeing, speak at the annual Climate Solutions breakfast, and deliver a commencement address at the University of Washington. She also took time to talk informally at an event with Grist supporters, and sat down with us for an interview.
We knew there was little chance that Jackson would go off message or make unscripted news, and we weren't going to play gotcha with her. But we did get some intriguing glimpses of the mind of the woman who's still trying to push the Obama administration's hope wagon over all those bumps.
Q.Right now U.S. fossil fuel production is ramping up, and a lot of people are enthusiastic about energy independence and jobs in that industry. So national security and employment are set up to be at odds with the environment. Can we get beyond that?
A. First of all there's two sides of the energy discussion: there's production, and there's also use. America as a consumer-oriented country is seeing real choices for the first time in using less energy. That's very good for the American pocketbook. There's simply no reason why American cars can't be efficient and still be cool and be a part of what drives our economy. And if you want proof of that, look at what's happening right now in Detroit. I have conversations all the time with young people, and they're not feeling like they're losing anything by the fact that they'll be able to have choices and much more fuel-efficient cars should they choose to buy them.
Today we pull the curtains back on the latest new feature here at Grist. The paint's still drying. The work isn't finished. But we're ready to invite you in.
Welcome to the new Gristmill -- the spot at Grist to tune in to the latest in the realms of climate and energy, sustainable food, cities, and all the other Grist-y stuff we cover. What just happened? What are people saying about it? What does it mean, and how does it all connect?
As always at Grist, we will hail people and efforts to improve our world -- and make ridiculous faces at people and efforts that deserve to be mocked. And as always, we'll keep using all the internet-y tools at our disposal to get you to join in.
Tending the mill -- by himself for the moment, with reinforcements on the way -- is our latest addition to the Grist team, Philip Bump. Philip has worked in the trenches of political campaigns, software development, green activism, and web journalism. And he's still standing upright! He brings all those experiences to bear in his writing with a sharp eye and a light touch, and we're thrilled to have him join us here.
First Google turned links into money. Now Facebook is turning likes into money.
To flesh that out: A decade ago, Google found a way to profit from the preferences each of us expressed as we coded links on every home page and blog post we published. Today, Facebook is aiming to profit from the preferences each of us express as we click "like" buttons and peruse the activity streams that Facebook assembles from that activity.
Last week, a front-page New York Times story sounded an alarm about a phenomenon Facebook veterans have known for some time: Facebook now transmutes personal messages into advertisements, and lets companies and individuals pay to highlight their posts on personal pages. Procter & Gamble can pay to tell us about its toothpaste; you and I can tell each other about our lives and loves. And each message has a price tag.
When we do these semiannual fundraising appeals here at Grist we sometimes look over at our peers in public broadcasting with envy.
When they don't meet their goals, they extend their deadlines. They just keep going. They're machines! We'll just keep torturing you, they say, until you give.
We're nicer than that. We've never extended our deadline. We live by the deadline here. But we don't want to die by it.
So the deadline for this appeal is fast approaching. And, to be honest, the involuntary poetry slam that Grist has become over the last 10 days? It's just exhausting. But you can do something about it! Give now, and put an end to our misery.
Here's what I mean:
My first week at Grist a few months ago, this gull decided to make a home on my windowsill for the better part of a day.
It stared at me. I stared at it. It made noises at me. I tried not to make noises back.
I thought of that bird when I watched our first appeal video -- the one with the Muppet-style raven harassing Grist's founder while mouthing droll Poe parodies.
And then it hit me -- the curse!
If I post here tomorrow
Things just couldn't be the same
'Cause Grist's so plagued with this nonsense
And this verse you cannot change!
Yes, it has come to this: Our lyrical disease has reached an advanced stage, and Lynyrd Skynyrd has infected my brainstem.
In the next stage, I fear, it's gonna be "Surfin' Bird," and we just don't want to go there.
To give, or not to give, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler for the earth to suffer
The slings and arrows of oil and gas fortune
Or to take arms against a sea that's rising,
And by donating stem it: to spill, to leak
No more. And by a gift, to say you care
how Grist ties climate news to daily life,
-- that we report with wit, not with despair.
To read, perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub,
For in that stream of words, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this toxic roil,
Must give us hope. Let me bare my bodkin:
Pray, if we hath lit a flame 'neath thy butt, Help Grist now with all the farthings thou canst!
Thus conscience does make donors of us all.
'Tis a contribution devoutly to be wished.
Parting is such sweet sorrow,
Scott Rosenberg Executive Editor
In a previous life, I earned my keep
Reviewing plays. Long and rich were the hours
I spent list'ning to or writing about
The works of Shakespeare. I wasn't that keen
To parody him in doggerel verse,
At first. But this curse is a cruel mistress.
Also, Grist must pay its bills. So why fret?
We'll stop this once you fill our purse. Not yet!
P.P.S. Giving online make you a wreck? You're also welcome to send a check: Grist, 710 Second Avenue, Suite 860, Seattle, WA 98104.
P.P.P.S. If we reach our goal by May 15, Grist will receive $25,000 from a generous donor.
Editor's note: In the wake of our original report on a paper exploring a possible link between high-fructose corn syrup and autism and the followup critique we posted by science writer Emily Willingham, the authors of the paper asked for a chance to respond. Below you'll find, first, the response by Renee Dufault and David Wallinga, M.D., and then a reply from Willingham.
Contrary to what’s been implied, our current paper does not allege consumption of HFCS causes autism. Rather, our model shows the science of how it may be one important risk factor of many that contributes to a cumulative or “total load” of risks. When we say “total load” we are referring to the accumulation of several risk factors, including nutrition, exposures to toxic chemicals, physical and emotional stressors, and more.
First off, thanks to all of you who emailed, tweeted, commented, or otherwise submitted your Earth Day haiku to us.
Now, to our dilemma: As we announced a little while ago, we'd hoped to pick a successor to our venerable "frog in boiling water" Official Grist Haiku -- the one that concludes, "Dude, we are that frog" -- in time for Earth Day.
We asked for your submissions. We picked some of the best, and we also seeded the entries with some of our own that we kicked around here.
We figured we'd hold a vote, see what the popular will told us, and then present a "people's choice" and an editorial selection -- or, ideally, they'd be the same.
But the vote, as of Earth Day, turned out to be a tie. And the more we sat with this set of nominees, we realized that, much as we enjoyed them, we didn't feel that any was truly suited to knock our frog off its perch.
So we're sticking with him for a little while longer. Meanwhile, we'll go back to the drawing board and see what else we can do to build irresistible momentum in the (intensely competitive) "humorous green haiku" market.
Or, to summarize:
Grist Haiku contest
ends in dead heat. We're stymied.
Frog, live on! (For now.)
Scott Rosenberg is Grist's executive editor. He's the author of Say Everything and Dreaming in Code, founder of MediaBugs.org and co-founder of Salon.com. He covered technology for a decade and wrote theater and film reviews for another decade, and has yet to resolve the resulting left-brain/right-brain conflict.