Briefly

Stuff that matters


On hire ground

China plans to create 13 million clean energy jobs by 2020.

The country has announced that it will invest $361 billion in renewable energy through the end of the decade — another signal that the world’s most populous nation is serious about combating climate change. The investment, Reuters reports, will continue China’s shift away from coal and other dirty fuels.

In addition to fighting climate change, investing in clean energy should help China address its air-pollution problems. Major cities like Beijing are often blanketed in smog, due largely to coal burning and other industrial activity. Last year, as part of China’s “war on pollution,” Beijing closed 335 factories and ordered more than 400,000 high-emitting vehicles off the roads — and there is some indication that these steps are working. According to the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau, the total number of “blue sky days” last year hit 198, up from just 12 in 2015.

But even after this new investment in renewables, clean energy is expected to account for only 15 percent of overall energy consumption by 2020, while coal will make up over half.

Still, China is solidifying its spot as the world leader in renewable energy. Meanwhile, in the U.S., the president-elect is expected to decrease investments in renewables and open up more lands to fossil fuel production.


The Leaden State

The lead poisoning of Flint’s children pales in comparison to rates found in parts of California.

In one Fresno zip code, 13.6 percent of children under the age of 6 have elevated levels of lead in their blood, according to a Reuters report, nearly three times higher than the percentage in Flint during its water crisis.

Close to 30 Golden State neighborhoods were found to have higher rates of childhood lead poisoning than Flint, according to 2012 blood testing data from the California Department of Public Health — and that data covered only about a quarter of California’s zip codes. Statewide, about 2 percent of kids have levels at or over the federal standard, according to the data.

Bill Quirk, a Democratic state assemblyman from the Bay Area, introduced a bill last week to ensure all California children are screened for lead poisoning. “It’s a widespread problem and we have to get a better idea of where the sources of exposure are,” he said.

Lead exposure often comes from peeling house paint or contaminated soil or water. Children with lead poisoning are at risk of developing a host of cognitive disorders.

A Reuters investigation from late last year uncovered nearly 3,000 U.S. locales with higher lead-poisoning rates than Flint, making that preventable disaster just the tip of an alarming iceberg.


Sad!

Major TV networks spent just 50 minutes on climate change — combined — last year.

That’s a dramatic, 66-percent drop in coverage from 2015 across evening and Sunday news programs airing on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox, according to a new study from Media Matters. ABC, for one, spent just six minutes on climate issues in 2016.

Media Matters

The networks can’t claim there was a shortage of important climate stories to cover. Hurricane Matthew, the Great Barrier Reef’s continued slow death, record-shattering heat, and the official beginning of the Paris climate deal all took place last year.

Interestingly, the coverage drop doesn’t seem to be an election-year phenomenon. In fact, climate coverage increased by 43 percent during the previous election cycle, between 2011 and 2012.

Media Matters

Other insights from the study:

  • Together, the networks aired five segments of climate science denial from Trump and his team — without rebuttal.
  • No network covered climate change’s impact on national security or the economy.
  • And none of them aired a single segment on the effect a Trump or Clinton presidency would have on the climate — until after the election.

Great to know that TV news is taking the defining issue of our time so seriously.


A rolling Keystone gathers no moss

The Trump administration is about to officially OK the Keystone XL pipeline.

As a 60-day deadline set by President Trump approaches, the State Department plans by Monday to approve a permit for TransCanada to build the pipeline.

Politico first reported the news Thursday. Because the pipeline would cross an international border between Canada and the United States, TransCanada needs State Department approval. Eager to get construction underway after years of delay and ultimately a rejection from President Obama, TransCanada filed a new permit application days after President Trump signed a memorandum intended to expedite the project.

Keystone XL would carry crude oil from the tar sands of Western Canada down through Montana and North Dakota to Nebraska, where it would join up with other oil headed toward the Gulf Coast. Citizen activists in Nebraska were pivotal in the fight against KXL the first time around. TransCanada still needs a permit from Nebraska, which it applied for in February.

A coalition of landowners, Native Americans, and climate activists fended off TransCanada’s advances during the Obama administration. Now they’re gearing up again. “The fight is still there,” Jane Kleeb, founder of Bold Nebraska, an organization that spearheaded opposition to KXL in the state, told me last month. “For seven years, we’ve learned how to organize.”


Grist 50

Meet the fixer: This politician fights for polluted communities.

Nanette Barragán is used to facing off against polluters. Elected in 2013 to the city council of Hermosa Beach, California, she took on E&B Natural Resources, an oil and gas company looking to drill wells on the beach. Barragán, an attorney before going into politics, learned of the potential project and began campaigning for residents to vote against it. The project was eventually squashed. In November, she won a congressional seat in California’s 44th district.

To Barragán, making sure President Trump’s environmental rollbacks don’t affect communities is a matter of life or death. The district she represents, the same in which she grew up, encompasses heavily polluted parts of Los Angeles County — areas crisscrossed with freeways and dotted with oil and gas wells. Barragan says she grew up close to a major highway and suffered from allergies. “I now go back and wonder if it was related to living that close,” she says.

Exide Technologies, a battery manufacturer that has polluted parts of southeast Los Angeles County with arsenic, lead, and other chemicals for years, sits just outside her district’s borders. Barragán’s district is also 69 percent Latino and 15 percent black. She has become acutely aware of the environmental injustices of the pollution plaguing the region. “People who are suffering are in communities of color,” she says.

Now in the nation’s capital, Barragán is chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s newly formed environmental task force and a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, which considers legislation on topics like energy and public lands and is chaired by climate denier Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican. She knows the next four years will be tough but says she’s up for the challenge. “I think it’s going to be, I hate to say it, a lot of defense.”


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


Good nature

To reduce obesity and depression, we need more nature in our lives.

Nature is an overlooked antidote: People who live near green spaces are generally happier and report better physical and mental health.

A new report from the Institute for European Environmental Policy examines the links between nature, equity, and well-being. Researchers reviewed more than 200 studies on the topic.

In urban areas with more trees, doctors prescribed fewer antidepressants, according to a London study. And in Denmark, people living within 330 yards of green spaces were less likely to be obese and more likely to engage in rigorous exercise.

But access to nature — and the benefits that ensue — aren’t equally distributed across populations. Minorities and low-income people tend to live farther from parks and tree-packed areas.

The report calls for doubling down on efforts to make natural areas accessible to disadvantaged groups. For example, instituting building codes with standards for nature proximity, and creating health policies that account for the preventative benefits of the great outdoors.

On average, we spend only 5 percent of our time outside. So — how about going for a nice, long walk?


Grist 50

Meet the fixer: This Brooklynite retrofits cities.

U.S. cities are packed with about 5 million medium-sized buildings — schools, churches, community centers, apartment buildings. Most use way more energy than they should. Many also have poor airflow and dirty, out-of-date heating and electrical systems. Those conditions contribute to high inner-city asthma rates and other health concerns.

“These buildings are actually making children sick,” says Donnel Baird, who grew up in such a place. His parents, immigrants from Guyana, raised their kids in a one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment, relying on a cooking stove for heat. Baird eventually moved to the South and then attended Duke University, before returning to New York as a community organizer in 2008.

In 2013, Baird launched BlocPower, which provides engineering and financial know-how to retrofit city buildings. The technical part is cool: Engineers survey structures with sensors and smartphone apps, figuring out the best ways to reduce energy use, like replacing oil boilers with solar hot water. But the financing is critical; BlocPower builds the case for each project and connects owners with lenders. It has already retrofitted more than 500 buildings in New York and is expanding into Chicago, Philadelphia, and Atlanta.

“The biggest way for us to reduce carbon emissions right now,” Baird says, “is efficiency.”


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