Briefly

Stuff that matters


florida, man

A Florida town requires solar on new homes.

South Miami became the first U.S. city outside of California to require solar panels on new residential construction and some home renovations.

The city passed the law after high school student Delaney Reynolds, inspired by the laws in California, wrote to mayors in the area. “We made history [Tuesday] night,” South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard said. “It’s not going to save the world by itself, but it’s going to get people thinking about [solar].” The 2.3-square-mile city receives an average of 5–10 building permits per year.

Meanwhile, Miami’s mayor asked for $192 million in his proposed budget to help keep Florida above the (ever-rising) water.

A message from The Wilderness Society:

The Senate is voting on a bill this week that would allow drilling in the Arctic Refuge. Help stop it!


Hurricane Harvey

A town hit hard by Hurricane Harvey may never fully recover.

The mayor of the coastal town of Rockport, Texas, said on Tuesday that the community will likely suffer permanent damage from the Category 4 storm.

It’s been nearly two months since Hurricane Harvey tore through Texas, leaving behind decimated buildings, torn-up infrastructure, and thousands of displaced people. While most national media attention focused on Houston, Rockport, population 10,645, suffered some of the hurricane’s worst wind and storm surge damage.

During a panel discussion in Victoria, Texas, Mayor Charles Wax said that approximately one-third of the town was destroyed in the hurricane, and a significant portion of that will be impossible to rebuild.

Only 300 of Rockport’s 1,300 businesses have reopened since the storm, 856 of Rockport’s 2,400 students have left the school district, and the town lost most of its trees in the storm. Disaster relief crews have cleared almost 800,000 cubic yards of vegetation felled by hurricane winds and rain. 

Wax, along with three other coastal Texas mayors coping with staggering devastation from the hurricane, said he has received more help from the state government than from FEMA. The agency is definitely spread a bit thin, it seems.


oversharing

Half of all rides on Uber and Lyft didn’t have to happen.

Those trips — 49 to 61 percent of all rides in metro areas — would otherwise have been made on foot, bike, or public transit, according to new analysis from UC Davis.

Sustainability-inclined urbanists — including us — often credit car- and ride-sharing services for reducing the overall number of cars in cities. After all, if people know they can get a ride when they need one, they will presumably be less likely to invest in a car of their own.

But the UC Davis study shows that the vast majority of ride-sharing users — 91 percent — have not made a change in their personal vehicle ownership as a result of Uber or Lyft. Meanwhile, these ride-share users took public transit 6 percent less.

That means that ride-hailing services aren’t necessarily taking people out of their cars — they’re taking them off of buses and subways.

There’s still lots of evidence that shows car ownership is an increasingly unappealing prospect for young people in America’s cities (after all, a big chunk of that 91 percent may not own a car in the first place).

Taxi apps may help kill the private car, but they won’t fix all our traffic and transit problems, either. That will take more work.


¿Qué?

Nearly half of the country thinks Donald Trump is handling hurricane season well.

A new poll from CNN shows that public opinion of President Donald Trump’s approach to hurricane recovery has drastically fallen — but still remains pretty high!

After hurricanes Harvey and Irma made their mark on the Gulf Coast in September, 64 percent of the public approved of Trump’s disaster relief efforts. But in light of his response to Hurricane Maria’s devastation in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, that approval rating has dropped to 44 percent.

No wonder: Trump blamed Puerto Rico’s devastation for upsetting the national budget, threw paper towels at a crowd of hurricane victims, and publicly attacked the mayor of San Juan. Throughout it all, he blamed the media for failing to recognize his good deeds.

In that context, 44 percent is still remarkably high. For comparison, 43 percent of Buzzfeed respondents believe that Mariah Carey is the best female vocalist of the ’90s, which is a good and correct opinion.


smoked out

California wildfires could cost ‘wine country’ its immigrant population.

While many homeowners in Sonoma and Napa Counties are returning to pick up the pieces after the deadliest blazes in state history, an estimated 32,000 undocumented immigrants — a majority of workers employed by the wine industry — might not come back.

Fear of deportation has kept immigrant workers and families from seeking shelter in evacuation centers, with some choosing to camp outside or sleep in their cars with their children. Fire officials are still working to stem rumors that immigrants could be detained by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement for seeking refuge.

Undocumented immigrants aren’t eligible for FEMA assistance, unemployment benefits, or welfare. Add to that, housing is already pricey in the region. A two-bedroom apartment rents for $1600 a month. An agricultural worker might earn just $2,400 a month, meaning these laborers might simply move on.

A shortage of immigrant workers in construction is also expected to slow rebuilding, Robbie Hunter of the Building and Construction Trades Council of California told the Sacramento Bee. “There is a shortage of people willing to work for less than minimum wage,” he said. “And that’s the workforce that has largely been building residential projects.”


Europe aflame

Photos show Portugal and Spain in flames.

A series of fires in both countries this week killed more than 40 people and injured at least 63 more.

The fires began over the weekend and grew stronger on Sunday as remnants of ex-Hurricane Ophelia exacerbated the flames. Portugal’s forests have been burning all summer, and the Portuguese Institute of Sea and Atmosphere reports September was the country’s driest month on record since 1930.

Drought and high temperatures magnified fires that Spanish authorities believe were started by arsonists. “What we are dealing with here is something that is not caused by accident. It has been provoked,” Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told the press on Monday.

Fires are still burning in northwestern Spain but don’t currently pose a threat to population centers. As of Tuesday morning, all active fires in Portugal had been extinguished. However, frightening images of smoke and destruction remain:

Smoke is seen amidst burned trees after a forest fire in Chandebrito, Galicia, northern Spain. REUTERS/Miguel Vidal
A vehicle turns around as a forest fire burns by the road near Vigo, Spain. REUTERS/Miguel Vidal

pipe dream

A judge lets pipeline protesters mount an unusual defense.

Last year, protesters were arrested and charged with felonies after turning off valves that control the flow of crude oil from Canada’s tar sands into the U.S. They intended to prevent damage to the climate and show solidarity with Standing Rock.

A Minnesota judge decided that three activists could use the “necessity” of confronting climate change as justification in court. They’ll call on scientists and present evidence of harms from climate change to show they violated the law to protect people and had no legal alternatives.

This is one of very few times where a court has allowed the so-called “necessity defense” — which activists have previously used in cases related to the Vietnam War and abortion — in a case about climate change.

Enbridge, the Canadian company operating the pipelines that were shut down, argues that the protesters took “reckless and dangerous” actions. The court will consider whether the dangers of climate change outweigh the risks of the protesters’ actions.

“The prosecutor will probably put people on the stand who will say, this is dangerous,” Patrick Parenteau, an environmental law professor at Vermont Law School, told InsideClimate News. So, it’s a long shot.