Stuff that matters

Reality? Check!

For the next 24 hours, Al Gore is treating us to celebs, interviews, and his favorite slideshows all about climate change.

How can the biggest carbon-emitting countries work toward combating climate change? The Climate Reality Project’s solutions-oriented live broadcast has a few ideas. OK, more than a few. Beginning at 6 p.m. EST on Dec. 5., they’re livestreaming interviews, performances, and Inconvenient Truth–style slideshows.

Treat yourself to 24 bowls of popcorn (one for every hour!) and watch the livestream below.

Gore will be joined by environmental leaders and celebrities, such as EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, jazz musician Esperanza Spalding, and comedian Steve Carell.

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The fault in our cars

Could we be heading into a mortgage crisis, but with cars?

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York thinks so. It released new figures last week showing that the percentage of delinquent subprime auto loans in the U.S. has reached its highest level since 2010: 6 million people who are more than 90 days late on their car payments.

Maybe the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau is right that those loans should never have been made in the first place. Subprime auto loans have more than doubled since 2009. Like home mortgages, auto loans are bundled together and sold as investments. If those loans turn out to be bad, the impact will ripple across the economy.

Unfortunately, most Americans need a car to get to work, and that’s a big drain on their finances. Drivers in the U.S. spend more than $6,300 a year on average to own and operate their vehicles (parking and tolls not included), and the poorest fifth of Americans spend 42 percent of their annual household budget on automobiles.

If we invested more in public transit systems and housing near transit hubs, many people wouldn’t need cars or car loans. But instead we’re looking at Trump’s proposed infrastructure plan, which would likely add to drivers’ burdens by creating more toll roads.


Amazon’s “advanced shopping technology” will end the greatest threat to humanity: long checkout lines.

The online retailer announced the arrival of Amazon Go on Monday, a grocery store that works sort of like a hotel minibar: When you want to purchase something, you pick it up off the shelf and walk out. Your smart phone — and the Amazon Go app — does the rest.

Currently, Amazon Go is only available at one 1,800-square-foot store open to Amazon employees in Seattle, but they plan on opening to the public in early 2017. This likely won’t come as welcome news to the roughly 850,000 cashiers working in grocery stores today — all of whom could be out of a job if Amazon’s model spreads.

But, hey, at least it’ll save the rest of us a couple of minutes waiting in line. Then we can use all that saved time to tackle our other most pressing issues: hat hair on picture day, no wifi signal in the bathroom, and mega corporations increasingly controlling all aspects of American life.

Dirty thoughts

The muck beneath our feet could be our destruction, or our salvation.

Most of us don’t have Dec. 5 marked on our calendars as World Soil Day, but maybe we should. In 1939, Congress sent the soil scientist W.C. Lowdermilk on a fact-finding mission to Western Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa to gauge how worried it should be by the Dust Bowl. He reported that, throughout history, whenever a society ruined its soil, it collapsed.

As geologist David Montgomery, author of Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, puts it, “The fundamental condition for sustaining a civilization is sustaining the soil.” If we continue to squander our soil, we are screwed:

If, on the other hand, we invest our energy studying and nurturing soil, they could act as a massive trap for carbon emissions, sponging greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere. That also makes soil more fertile.

The key is to use whatever tools we can to improve soils and minimize the land we cultivate, according to the soil scientists Mary and Bob Scholes. Soil could be the source of apocalypse or renewal. What are the chances we’ll take the right steps? Thinking about it is enough to make me soil myself.

show's not over

Despite victory for Standing Rock Sioux, Energy Transfer Partners vows Dakota Access Pipeline will go on.

Protestors fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline celebrated Sunday after the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it will conduct an Environmental Impact Statement to weigh the pros and cons of alternative routes to the controversial Lake Oahe crossing — one that endangered the tribe’s ancestral land and water.

Energy Transfer Partners proposed another route in its initial proposal, and the Corps suggested in a memo that it will have to take a closer look at it again.

While an alternative route may address some concerns raised by the Standing Rock Sioux — for instance, that the pipeline would disturb sacred burial sites — it will still likely cross the Missouri River, where a pipeline leak could endanger the water supply of millions living downstream. The yellow line shows the alternative that was abandoned early on by the company:

Routes considered for DAPL
Dakota Access LLC

“Crossings of the Missouri River have the potential to affect the primary source of drinking water for much of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Tribal nations,” an EPA official wrote in March.

Energy Transfer Partners, for its part, is not giving up on the original route. In a statement released Sunday night, the company, along with its parent company Sunoco, said it has no intention to reroute the planned pipeline.

Donald Trump has said he supports the pipeline, although a spokesperson said Monday that Trump will wait until taking office to make a final decision.

Remember that time...

There’s a battle over indigenous resources in Alaska, and you helped us investigate it.

Grist sent former fellow Melissa Cronin aboard a four-seat prop plane to the tiny village of Tyonek, Alaska, this summer. Her on-the-ground investigation helped expose a Texas energy company’s plans to develop a coal mine across wetlands and forest that are extremely valuable to the local indigenous people.

Through her dogged reporting, Melissa published Coal’s Last Gamble — the type of fearless journalism we are proud to produce. If you missed the story, check it out here.

As part of our annual winter fund drive, we’re highlighting the stories of 2016 that defined our year. Why? Now more than ever, the world desperately needs independent nonprofit journalism. With the media landscape rife with antagonism, spectacle, and fake news, Grist dives deep and brings important stories you just can’t find elsewhere.

Donate Now

Grist’s journalism is powered by readers like you. So, if you learned something valuable from Coal’s Last Gamble or any of the great work the team brought you this year, please consider making a gift!

As an added bonus, all new monthly donors will receive a limited-edition Grist steel pint glass to drink your political sorrows away toast to the progress we make toward a more sustainable, just future. Supplies are limited — get yours now.