Briefly

Stuff that matters


Deja woo woo

A South Dakota education bill has scientists wondering if we’re headed back to the Cretaceous.

Senate Bill 55 would let teachers present “the strengths and weaknesses of scientific information.” Critics worry that the legislation would lead schools to dilute or ditch lessons about evolution and climate change in favor of teaching ideas like creationism.

The bill made its way through South Dakota’s Senate last month, and is being considered by the House Education Committee today. Similar bills have come up in South Dakota in past years, but this is the first time one has made it this far.

And it’s not just South Dakota. State legislators in Indiana, Oklahoma, and Texas are also considering bills that would open science classrooms to “alternative facts.”

So take note, kids: 70 million years ago, South Dakota was crawling with dinosaurs like T. rex and triceratops. But no, your ancestors definitely didn’t ride them.

Support coverage of a future that doesn't suck DONATE


You Missed Something

Trump’s newest funding cuts are a nightmare for national security and public health.

On that note: In the event of a flood, do you prefer your town with or without toilet water flowing down the streets?

President Trump’s proposed cuts, issued on March 16, would roll back or eliminate programs that deal with environmental security concerns, the Intercept reports. These concerns include pandemics, extreme weather, and, yes, floods of sewage.

In March, Trump signed an executive order signaling that national security agencies no longer need to take climate change into consideration.

One minor problem: Virtually every major federal security document ever compiled on climate change names it as a significant threat to national safety. Both within the U.S. and around the world, we can expect rising seas, extreme weather, dramatic flooding, intense wildfires, and prolonged drought to increase migration, conflict, and health risks.

Trump has attempted to cultivate a tough reputation on national security with proposed increases in military spending, vague threats against North Korea, or yelling about That Wall all the time. But it looks like he’s ignoring a pretty enormous weak spot.


War on Facts

This is embarrassing, but there might be some climate denial in your school.

New legislative measures in six states seek to challenge science in the very place where it should be the most protected and least politicized: children’s classrooms.

As Vice reports, Oklahoma, Texas, Florida, Alabama, Idaho, and Indiana have all put forward bills that seek to discredit basic concepts like climate change and evolution in school curricula.

The measures include bills requiring teachers to describe established climate science as “controversial” and giving locals the right to object to textbooks they disagree with. These pieces of legislation indicate a shift from the longstanding “creationism deserves a place in the classroom” debate toward climate denial.

This is a pretty chilling follow-up to the news that the Heartland Institute mailed its climate-denial propaganda to thousands of science teachers across the country. If you were wondering why so many people were out March(ing) for Science — in the pouring rain, no less — last weekend, you may have your answer.


Grist 50

Meet the fixer: This teenager gives the youngest generation a voice.

Growing up in the era of smartphones and social media, today’s kids have the world on a handheld screen. Yet they don’t often engage on environmental issues. Why? “We’ve never been told our opinions matter,” says Xiuhtezcatl Martinez (his first name is pronounced Shoe-tez-caht). The refrain he hears from grown-ups: “‘These issues should be left for adults.’”

Martinez, who is half-Aztec, helps organize unified actions like protests and tree plantings for Earth Guardians, a nonprofit that encourages youngsters to stand up for the planet. Martinez rallied youth for the 2014 climate march in New York City and the Native Nations Rise march on Washington this March.

At just 16, Martinez has addressed the United Nations five times and is one of the 21 kids suing the federal government over climate inaction. He has also talked climate on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher and in Teen Vogue, among other media outlets. Makes you wonder what the hell you were doing when you were in high school, huh?

By the time he’s 26, Martinez would like to see a much better world. Ten years isn’t much time, though. This generation has to take action fast. “We’re not just the future,” he says. “We’re also here right now.”


Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.


well, that escalanted quickly

Trump’s latest executive order will review Bears Ears and other national monuments.

The order, which Trump signed Wednesday, directs the Interior Department to review all national monument designations over 100,000 acres made from 1996 onwards.

That includes between 24 and 40 monuments — notably, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, and Mojave Trails in California.

During the review, the Interior Department can suggest that monuments be resized, revoked, or left alone, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said at a briefing on Tuesday. We can expect a final report this summer that will tell us which monument designations, if any, will be changed.

Environmental groups are already voicing opposition. If designations are removed, it could make it easier to eliminate protections and open land to special interests like fossil fuels.

Zinke, a self-proclaimed conservationist, said, “We can protect areas of cultural and economic importance and even use federal lands for economic development when appropriate — just as Teddy Roosevelt envisioned.”

In between further adulations of his hero, Zinke said that he would undertake the “enormous responsibility” with care. “No one loves our public lands more than I,” he said. “You can love them as much — but you can’t love them more than I do.”


Sashay Away

Coal is giving us blatant hints that it’s on the way out.

And for a government that adores market forces so much, it doesn’t seem to be heeding them very well. Consider the following:

1. In 2016, there were over twice as many American jobs in solar energy production as in coal (373,807 vs. 160,119), the New York Times reported. Note that the coal industry continues to be a relatively large employer in Wyoming, West Virginia, and to a lesser extent North Dakota and Kentucky.

2. But here’s a surprise from Chris Beam, the new president of Appalachian Power — an energy company based in Charleston, West Virginia. “[Gov. Jim Justice] asked me, ‘I’d like you to burn more coal,’” Beam told the Charleston Gazette-Mail. “Well … We’re not going to build any more coal plants. That’s not going to happen.”

Why? Corporations like Amazon and Google that might look to expand energy sourcing to Appalachia have greener preferences. (Beam isn’t the first energy CEO in the region to show interest in renewables.)

3. The EPA just held a session to invite public opinion on which clean air regulations should be cut — ever-conveniently during a Monday morning. The loudest respondents? Fossil fuel lobbyists.

Can we stop trying to make coal happen?


Imperfect storms

That ridiculous heatwave really was caused by climate change.

Which one? Pick any heat wave, according to a new study, and there’s a greater than 80 percent chance that climate change was behind it.

If you have ever been reprimanded by some insufferable pedant (maybe me) for blaming the record-breaking heat on climate change, prepare to receive some validation. The paper, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests you were likely right.

Lead author Noah Diffenbaugh and a team of researchers found that human-caused global warming has nudged up the thermostat on the hottest day, and hottest month, across more than 80 percent of the Earth. They also found we’ve also turned up the volume on the weather, increasing the likelihood of a record dry year in 57 percent of places observed.

Last year, the National Academies published a fat report on attributing extreme weather events to climate change. The report said that, although science can’t deliver an absolute verdict about what caused a specific heatwave or hurricane, it can tell us how much climate change boosted the likelihood or intensity of that event. In other words, science deals in probabilities, not absolute certainties. But as the science improves, with papers like this latest one, those probabilities get higher and higher.