Briefly

Stuff that matters


The long good-bye

In his farewell address, Obama called on Americans to face the facts about climate change.

Here’s what he had to say on the topic:

[W]ithout some common baseline of facts; without a willingness to admit new information, and concede that your opponent is making a fair point, and that science and reason matter, we’ll keep talking past each other, making common ground and compromise impossible. …

Take the challenge of climate change. In just eight years, we’ve halved our dependence on foreign oil, doubled our renewable energy, and led the world to an agreement that has the promise to save this planet. But without bolder action, our children won’t have time to debate the existence of climate change; they’ll be busy dealing with its effects: environmental disasters, economic disruptions, and waves of climate refugees seeking sanctuary.

Now, we can and should argue about the best approach to the problem. But to simply deny the problem not only betrays future generations; it betrays the essential spirit of innovation and practical problem-solving that guided our Founders.

Ultimately, Obama’s speech was heavy on his trademark optimism, arguing that we can solve our big problems. He ended with a rousing, “Yes We Can. Yes We Did. Yes We Can.”

Now it’s up to Americans to carry the ball forward.


Sic transit gloria

Transit ridership is slipping in some big cities.

And that’s surprising because many buses and trains seem more crowded than ever. In fact, a manager of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system speculated that overcrowding might be causing the decline. It’s kind of like Yogi Berra said, “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”screen-shot-2017-02-24-at-11-12-32-am

When a subway car is jam-packed, in other words, some people decide to jump out. In general, supply just isn’t keeping up with demand. In the Bay Area, for instance, BART cars are so old that engineers can’t find replacement parts for repairs, and rider satisfaction is at a 20-year low. There just aren’t as many cars as there used to be.

In New York, ridership numbers reached historic highs before slipping last year. Perhaps more people are taking Uber and Lyft. Or maybe the system is just showing its age.

Los Angeles can’t blame an aging system. That city has been laying new tracks in a $9 billion expansion of the light rail system, yet the number of riders has been falling month after month. This could correspond to the rise in vehicle miles travelled, which fell during the last recession and stayed down for years.

But let’s be real: Big cities don’t work when they rely on automobiles for transportation. Adding subway cars, on the other hand, is a proven method to unclog the circulatory systems of growing cities.


Oh say, can you DNC?

Climate activists are rooting for Keith Ellison to head up the Democratic National Committee.

Democratic Party insiders will vote for a new chair this weekend. The winner will get the tough job of trying to rebuild a damaged party.

Ten people are in the running, but the victor is likely to be one of the top two contenders: Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison or former Labor Secretary Tom Perez. Ellison backed Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential primary last year, and Sanders is backing Ellison in this race. In 2012 and 2015, Ellison and Sanders teamed up to push a bill to end subsidies for fossil fuel companies.

Climate activist (and Grist board member) Bill McKibben argues that Ellison, a progressive who is “from the movement wing,” would help the party regain credibility with young people.

A coalition of millennial leaders endorsed Ellison this week, including a number of activists from climate groups. “We want a chair who will fight to win a democracy for all and overcome the profound crises of our time — from catastrophic climate change to systemic racism, historic economic inequality to perpetual war,” they wrote.

350 Action, the political arm of climate group 350.org, endorsed Ellison earlier this month:

And Jane Kleeb, a prominent anti-Keystone activist and a voting DNC member, is backing Ellison too:

 


dakota access

Standing Rock is burning.

About 150 people voluntarily left the last occupied resistance camp by Wednesday at 2:00 p.m., the state-issued deadline to clear camps built to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline. The remaining water protectors joined members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in setting fire to tents according to tribal tradition — one last blaze of defiance against the pipeline.

Police likely arrested around 50 people, and around 25 to 50 water protectors still remained in the evacuation zone after the 2:00 p.m. deadline. North Dakota law enforcement entered the camps again this morning to clear out anyone who still remained. Ruth Hopkins, a journalist with Indian Country Media Network, reported law enforcement pointing rifles at people and knifing tipis.

On Feb. 20, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe asked all water protectors to peacefully vacate the camps by yesterday, maintaining that the battle is now in court and on the streets. On Feb. 15, the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes asked a court to reverse a final easement that would allow the disputed portion of the pipeline to be built. And on March 10, the tribes will rally for the Rise With Standing Rock Native Nations March on Washington.

When the 150 water protectors left camp on Wednesday, they marched out holding an American flag hung upside down.


Exxon knows

Exxon just decided to keep a big chunk of its tar sands in the ground.

In a press release, the company said that oil prices are so low that it’s simply not profitable to dig up and process the 3.5 billion barrels of fuel buried in one of Canada’s highest-quality deposits of oil sands. That’s a huge amount, as much as the entire petroleum consumption of the United States for six months.

Exxon has long resisted calls to erase these reserves from its books, insisting that it would dig up the tar sands someday, according to Inside Climate News. When a company erases an investment off the books, it’s effectively saying, “We bought something that’s now worthless.” This isn’t an easy thing to admit.

But plenty of companies are fessing up. Last week, ConocoPhillips wiped a billion barrels of oil sands off its books; in November, Norway’s Statoil said it was getting out of the Canadian oil sands business; and in 2015, Royal Dutch Shell fled another big oil sands project, which knocked a $2 billion dent in its bottom line. All told, oil companies have “delayed or canceled at least 64 projects in Alberta’s oil sands” since 2014.

What’s behind all this? Low oil prices. In other words, the market is convincing companies to keep these fossil fuels in the ground. Add climate regulations on top of that, and it could be the death of tar-sands development.


You've got emails

Here are some of the most unnerving things we’ve read so far in those Pruitt emails.

Scott Pruitt, new EPA administrator, had cozy ties with energy companies while serving as Oklahoma’s attorney general, as the New York Times reported in 2014 and again this week. The Center for Media and Democracy just got ahold of thousands of emails from Pruitt’s time as AG. A few choice tidbits:

Pruitt’s office asked a VP at Devon Energy, a big oil and gas company, how it should comment on an EPA report on methane emissions:

“I thought we should insert a sentence or two regarding the recent EPA report … Any suggestions?” wrote Clayton Eubanks from the AG’s office.

Pruitt’s chief of staff asked for a personal favor from another Devon VP:

“My boys are out of school and my father is in town from NC so we are playing tourist in OKC today. One of the things the boys wanted to do was to go to the top of the Devon tower. I know it’s shocking—but I’ve actually never been in the tower … ;)” wrote Melissa McLawhorn Houston.

And that same Devon VP invited Pruitt’s chief of staff out for lunch at a swanky restaurant:

“Reservations are set for 11:45 at Cheevers,” Devon’s Allen Wright wrote to Houston.

If you’re looking forward to another email saga that just won’t end, you’re in luck. The Center for Media and Democracy expects to make another dump on Feb. 27.


Sound & Fury

Congressional climate deniers are getting called on their BS at town halls this week.

It turns out plenty of their constituents DO care about climate change, clean water, and environmental regulation, and they’re using the Congressional recess to make their voices heard.

Take, for example, Virginia Rep. Dave Brat, who probably expected a friendly reception from a Trump-supporting town in his district. Instead, reports the Washington Post, more than 150 people crowded into a small room to grill Brat on everything from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Flint water crisis.

When asked if he denies climate change, Brat tried to joke, “No, the climate changes all the time.” The angry crowd yelled back: “Answer the question!” And then there was this:

Want to make sure your representative gets the same message while on break from Washington? You can find a list of town hall meetings here — assuming they haven’t been canceled by politicians afraid of straight talk from their constituents.