Briefly

Stuff that matters


Behind the Trumpocene

EPA employees speak out about the agency’s problems under Trump.

A report by the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative examines the threat the new president poses to American environmental and energy policy — and includes concerns from nearly 60 current and former EPA workers.

In excerpted interviews, employees talk of micromanagement by new administrator Scott Pruitt, close associations with business interests, and the grave danger facing the EPA’s essential mission.

“I have worked under six administrations with political appointees … from both parties,” one employee said. “This is the first time I remember staff openly dismissing and mocking the environmental policies of an administration.”

The report points to two historical precedents for Trump’s attack on environmental policy: Ronald Reagan’s first two years  — when 21 percent of the EPA’s budget was slashed — and Stephen Harper’s nine-year, climate-denying tenure as Canada’s prime minister. Trump is on track to do more damage to the environmental agenda than either Reagan or Harper, by clawing back all manner of EPA regulations and axing its scientific research.

“Trump is concerned about trade equality, Making America Great Again,” one interviewee pointed out. “How can we possibly be on top and competitive with Japan and these other countries if we don’t excel in science, engineering, and technology?”

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environmental injustice

Trump’s policies put the most vulnerable Americans in danger.

A new report from the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative, a group of academics and nonprofit professionals, finds that over the past eight months, the new president has amplified risks to the country’s environmentally disadvantaged people and torn down some hard-won protections.

“Through proposed budget cuts and personnel reductions at agencies like EPA,” the report reads, “the new administration has crippled the government’s ability to address environmental problems, including inequalities in toxic exposure.”

President Trump has undone decades of progress on environmental justice. He allowed construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline to resume, reversed a planned ban on the agricultural pesticide chlorpyrifos (despite its link to neurological disorders in children), and proposed slashing funds for toxic Superfund site cleanup. Perhaps most alarming, the administration has obscured public data. For example, it has failed to maintain the Toxics Release Inventory that informs communities of nearby exposure risks.

Hurricane Harvey, the reports’ authors note, offers a glimpse into the increased burden that poor communities will experience from climate change — effects that Trump’s actions will likely magnify.

“In a moment that calls for a greater awareness of the intersection of environment and inequality,” they wrote, “the policies and priorities of Trump’s administration are especially disheartening.”


wheels of misfortune

Houston was built for cars. What happens when Harvey destroys 250,000 vehicles?

Three weeks after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas with the worst rainfall event in U.S. history, many low-income residents are still stuck at home, unable to afford a replacement vehicle and get back to work.

More than 90,000 of the 250,000 damaged cars were either uninsured or not covered by flood protections, according to estimates from the Insurance Council of Texas.

For folks living paycheck to paycheck — who may have also lost furniture, clothes, and rental housing in addition to vehicles — earning the money needed to replace those losses presents a challenge.

Prior to the hurricane, 94.4 percent of households in the Houston area owned cars, making it second only to Dallas in vehicle ownership. While people in the city center can commute by bus or bike, it’s much harder for residents in the city’s sprawling suburbs, living far from bus lines, to get into town without their own wheels.

“I don’t have nothing to do,” one construction worker in northeast Houston told the Texas Tribune. “I don’t have work. I don’t have a car.”


food chain reaction

World hunger rises after decades of decline.

The number of hungry people in the world grew to 815 million in 2016. That’s up by 38 million from the previous year, according to a new report from the United Nations.

Researchers pinpoint a rise in conflict and climate change–related shocks as the major drivers. And they’re related: Spikes in heat are linked with spikes in violence. Extreme drought and war caused famine in South Sudan for several months this year, and conflict-affected countries like Somalia, Yemen, and northeast Nigeria are currently at risk of famine, the U.N. reports.

As the climate becomes less stable, the world faces many food security challenges. Climate-related disasters — more frequent and more intense droughts, floods, and storms — can destroy crops and homes. Meanwhile, climate change has begun to affect crop yields and decrease the nutritive benefits of many plants.

And yet, the growing availability of high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods complicates this picture of global hunger. As Western food companies expand to poorer countries, they introduce junk food to more people. In a New York Times investigation of Nestle’s impact on obesity and malnutrition in Brazil, the authors point out a sobering fact: “Across the world, more people are now obese than underweight.”


The Other Donald

Donald Glover’s ‘Atlanta’ is a double-Emmy winner.

The show earned high praise when it premiered last year for its portrayal of a young black man living in one of America’s most sprawling cities, and it just won new accolades on Sunday.

The show follows Earn Marks, played by Glover, who suffers through slow bus rides and long walks on streets without sidewalks — a common but overlooked reality for many in Atlanta’s suburbs. The show’s genre-bending episodes move effortlessly from atmospheric realism to astute political comedy to something altogether more surreal (Glover once said that he wanted to make “‘Twin Peaks’ with rappers”).

By the end of the Emmy awards ceremony — which also featured a chorus line of Handmaids and an uncomfortable Sean Spicer cameo —  Glover came away with two wins out of four nominations for Atlanta’s acclaimed first season: Best Lead Actor in a Comedy and Outstanding Directing in a Comedy. Glover is the first African-American to win an Emmy in directing, a politically relevant fact he seemed to nod at in his acceptance speech.

“I want to thank Trump for making black people No. 1 on the most oppressed list,” Donald Glover said. “He’s the reason I’m probably up here.”


how's business?

ExxonMobil and Chevron are some of the most influential climate lobbyists. Yikes.

A report from InfluenceMap, a U.K. think tank, assessed the 50 biggest companies influencing climate policy and found that 35 actively fight against climate-friendly legislation.

The below chart maps out the companies according to how strongly they support policies to combat climate change (the x-axis) and how politically engaged they are when doing so (the y-axis).

Click to embiggen. InfluenceMap

Researchers selected the companies from a list of the 250 largest, non-state-owned companies, ignoring the 200 companies that appeared to be fence-sitters on the issue.

The anti-climate gang includes pretty much exactly who you’d imagine — Shell, Chevron, Koch Industries, and our old climate-denying frenemy ExxonMobil. On the pro-climate side, we have Apple, Tesla, and Ikea (thanks, Scandinavia!). Many of these companies are committed to buying 100 percent renewable power.

InfluenceMap noted a spike in companies taking steps to combat climate change in the past two years, following the Paris Agreement and Trump’s election as president. Here’s to hoping that trend will continue.


can't say for sure

Florida Governor Rick Scott is figuring out his feelings on climate change post-hurricane.

“Clearly, our environment changes all the time,” the Republican leader said after touring Irma’s devastation. “And whether that’s cycles we’re going through or whether that’s man-made, I wouldn’t be able to tell you which one it is.”

It’s good to see Scott pondering those wacky ideas we’ve all heard floating around: Human-caused climate changemore intense hurricanesrising sea levels, etc. Coming to terms with climate change is a journey we all must pursue at our own pace! It’s not urgent or anything.

So what is Scott feeling sure about? Let’s hear it:

This is a catastrophic storm our state has never seen,” he warned on Saturday before Irma hit Florida.

“We ought to go solve problems. I know we have beach renourishment issues. I know we have flood-mitigation issues,” he said in the wake of Irma.

“I’m worried about another hurricane,” he shared with reporters while touring the Florida Keys this week. We feel ya, Scott.

Big ideas! Perhaps a fellow Florida Republican could illuminate their common thread.

“[I]t’s certainly not irresponsible to highlight how this storm was probably fueled — in part — by conditions that were caused by human-induced climate change,” Florida congressman and Grist 50er Carlos Curbelo said this week.

In fact, it just might be necessary.

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