Briefly

Stuff that matters


California droughtin'

Drought doesn’t just mean less water — it also means more pollution.

That’s the conclusion of a new study of the recent drought in California, published in the journal Sustainable Cities and Society.

At the height of the drought, between 2011 and 2014, electricity produced via hydropower dropped by more than 60 percent, going from 21.2 percent of the state’s supply to 8.3 percent. Natural gas — more polluting and more expensive than hydropower — made up the difference.

So from 2012 to 2014, CO2 emissions from the state’s energy sector were up 33 percent compared to 2011. And utility bills were up too: The Pacific Institute estimates that Californians paid an extra $2 billion for electricity between 2011 and 2015.

It could have been worse. The drought coincided with a rise in solar and wind in the state. Without these new clean energy sources, CO2 emissions during the drought would have increased by 44 percent, researchers found.

The study estimates that California would need 2.5 times as much wind and solar as it had online in 2014 to make it through a similar drought without a spike in emissions. And, since climate change is making drought in the state more common, dips in hydropower will make it even more challenging for the state to meet its goal of generating 50 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2030.

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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.

Or at least there’s a greater that 80 percent chance that it was.

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. A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that 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.


grist 50

Meet the fixer: This scientist brings social justice to her field.

Growing up in New York, Cynthia Malone had clear goals. “I had this vision of becoming the next Jane Goodall — the black Jane Goodall,” she says. She earned a master’s degree in conservation biology from Columbia University studying oil palm expansion and conflicts between humans and wildlife. Her fieldwork took her to the Solomon Islands, Indonesia, and Cameroon.

While working toward her degree, Black Lives Matter protests and viral videos of police brutality gripped the country. So she got involved. Malone began working with Columbia’s graduate students of color and Black Youth Project 100, a youth-led organization that coordinates direct action and political education. She also cofounded the Diversity Committee at the Society for Conservation Biology. Her goal there is to make human diversity in the sciences as important as biological diversity.

Malone is headed into a Ph.D. at University of Toronto studying neocolonialism and who gets a seat at the table in conservation decisions. She’s also building a network of environmental scholars of color and activists to “think through what a decolonized conservation science would look like.” In other words: create a new, more equitable vision for the future of science.


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


The beginning of the end

Britain just went a whole day without burning any coal for electricity.

It hit the milestone on Friday, going a full 24 hours without relying on the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel.

That’s a first since the Industrial Revolution — and an indication of big changes in the country that brought us the original steam engine.

Britain is on track to completely stop generating electricity from coal by 2025, with two-thirds of the country’s coal-generating capacity gone within the last five years. The nation is rapidly switching to renewables like solar and wind power as well as to natural gas. Last year, coal produced just 9 percent of Britain’s electricity, down from 40 percent in 2012.

Britain led the world into the coal-burning age, but that era is rapidly coming to a close. Next stop: the future.


Grist 50

Meet the fixer: This advocate connects green Latinos.

Ten years ago, Mark Magaña was a D.C. lobbyist, when the Bipartisan Policy Center hired him to rally Latino support for an ill-fated bill to limit corporate carbon emissions. As Magaña soon found, there was no network to tap. Even within green groups in Washington, most Latino environmentalists didn’t know each other.

“The more I got into it, the more I saw the individuals in D.C. were very isolated,” Magaña says. “If I went to a green reception, maybe I’d be the only Latino in the room. Maybe there’d be one other, but I wouldn’t know them.”

In response, Magaña founded GreenLatinos, a national network of Latino environmental advocates that connects grassroots efforts with power and money in Washington. So far, the group has convinced the Environmental Protection Agency to close several contaminating landfills in Puerto Rico and brought attention to the Standing Rock pipeline protests in the Spanish-language media.

Diversity is the future of the environmental movement, Magaña says. “Now it’s investment time, investing in the communities,” he says. “They will be the environmentalists of the future.”


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


That Makes Sense

Saturday’s marches show that a whole lot of people DO care about using sound science to make policy!

Hundreds of thousands of protesters turned out in 600-plus cities across the world this Earth Day (on every continent but Antarctica) to March for Science. Although numbers are still coming in, attendance estimates include some 40,000(!) marchers in Chicago and 12,000 in London.

The Trump administration’s disregard for basic facts provided the impetus for many (but not all) to take to the streets, with organizers saying “science is under attack.” Some common concerns included White House efforts to abolish environmental protection, cut federal funding for research, and erase references to climate science from government websites, among other outrages. (Grist keeps track here.)

President Trump made no direct reference to the protests (not even on Twitter!), but he issued an Earth Day address in which he claimed: “My administration is committed to advancing scientific research that leads to a better understanding of our environment and of environmental risks … We should remember that rigorous science depends not on ideology, but on a spirit of honest inquiry and robust debate.”

Trump went on to tweet the following:

To which one might respond: Without a livable climate and planet, there’s not much hope of economic growth.

Missed the march? Here are some of our favorite snapshots (and see more from our Climate Desk partners):

A week from now, there’s an opportunity to do it all over again. Need tips and motivation for protesting like a pro? Find them in Ask Umbra’s 21-Day Apathy Detox.