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Stuff that matters


Grist 50

Meet the fixer: This lawyer connects justice and the environment.

Nicky Sheats has done his homework. After getting his degree from Harvard Law, Sheats went back to get a PhD in biogeochemistry, also at Harvard, and did a quick post-doc at Columbia. (Did we mention he went to Princeton for undergrad?) When his studies brought him to an environmental justice conference, Sheats saw a cause that united all his interests.

Over his career, Sheats has leaned on academic research to write policy initiatives for cleaner air in communities of color, which typically suffer from higher rates of air pollution. Recently, Sheats helped develop a municipal ordinance in Newark, New Jersey, that calls for stricter regulation of pollution caused by development projects. After six long years of campaigning, Newark passed the ordinance in July 2016.

Another win: When, in 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed the Clean Power Plan, a set of rules that require electric power plants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Sheats saw huge gaps in policy and regulation that could potentially hurt low-income communities and communities of color. He gave lectures and wrote to policymakers, advocating for mandatory reductions of air pollution around these communities — not just for greenhouse gases, but also for “co-pollutants,” other toxins commonly released from power plants.

The EPA ended up adapting some of Sheats’ policies, albeit without including any concrete mechanisms to achieve that goal. “We think that if you don’t use climate change policy to reduce inequalities,” Sheats says, “you’ll miss a big opportunity to help environmental justice communities that may not come around again.”


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


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.


too soon

Hurricane Jose may be headed toward New England.

September is historically the busiest month of hurricane season in the Atlantic, and this year is proving no exception.

Up next is Hurricane Jose, expected to curve toward the United States over the weekend. The storm is expected to grow larger but not necessarily more intense. Its path is what’s most concerning: A broad swath of tropical storm or low-end hurricane force winds could affect everywhere from Washington, D.C., to New York City to Boston next week. In a worst-case scenario, it means another round of large scale power outages.

Both major long-range computer weather models, the American GFS and the European ECMWF, now agree that Hurricane Jose will likely approach New England by next Wednesday. There’s about a 50 percent chance the storm’s center will make landfall somewhere between the Mid-Atlantic and eastern Canada.

Understandably, meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center — who, on the heels of Harvey and Irma have now endured the busiest first half of September in weather history — are getting a little exhausted. In addition to Jose, there are two other potential tropical storms or hurricanes spinning in the Atlantic right now, one of which may affect the Caribbean and perhaps also the United States mainland within the next 10 days.


orange count

Hurricane Irma wiped out half of Florida’s citrus crop.

The Sunshine State expected to harvest 75 million boxes of oranges this year. That number is looking decidedly slimmer after Irma knocked fruit off trees, flooded fields and groves, and broke irrigation pipes.

The hurricane took out an estimated 50 percent of the season’s citrus crop statewide, USA Today reports. Based on reports from the field, losses may be even higher in South Florida.

And yes, that’s likely to hike up the price of your orange juice. Florida produces nearly half of U.S. citrus, despite recent declines in productivity. Since 2005, the state’s citrus harvest has fallen by 70 percent partly due to citrus greening, a disease that cuts yields and makes fruit more bitter.

The hurricane also damaged other crops in the southern and central parts of the state, especially tomatoes and strawberries.

Though Florida’s agricultural outlook is not pretty, things are even worse in the Caribbean. Irma stripped entire islands bare of vegetation and posed a serious threat to food security. The storm flooded fields and destroyed crops in places like Haiti and Cuba, where many people are subsistence farmers.