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Stuff that matters


Grist 50

Meet the fixer: This storyteller puts people first.

For all their glittering charisma, solar cells and wind turbines don’t make for the best story subjects. But the people who benefit from cleantech — whether they’re landing jobs in the industry, breathing cleaner air, or just saving a few bucks on utilities — have the real tale to tell.

With 100%, a media campaign from The Solutions Project, Sean Watkins and his team seek out diverse climate leaders across the country and tell their success stories over Facebook, Instagram, and sometimes even physical billboards. The purpose is to build inspiration and momentum for others to push for 100 percent clean energy in their communities and create campaigns that outlive our gone-in-a-minute attention spans.

For the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, Watkins enlisted Avengers star Mark Ruffalo to host eight short videos that profile tribal members and supporters at Standing Rock. Watkins also shines a light on communities that might otherwise fall under the radar. Case in point: a social media and YouTube campaign to recognize PUSH Buffalo, a local group that’s turning the shuttered houses and storefronts on the city’s West Side into a sustainable neighborhood. (Check out the story of PUSH Buffalo’s deputy director, Rahwa Ghirmatzion, another Grist 50 member.) “We know and believe that there are success stories everywhere,” says Watkins.


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


life in plastic

Trump reversed a plastic water bottle ban in national parks.

And pretty much nobody is happy about it, except maybe Nestlé.

Since 2011, 23 national parks had ended the sale of plastic water bottles to cut down on trash and litter. Before the ban took effect at the Grand Canyon, for example, water bottles made up 20 percent of the park’s total waste. But on Aug. 16, the Trump administration ended the six-year-old policy that enabled the ban, welcoming plastic bottles back to the Grand Canyon, Zion, and other national parks.

Bottled water companies had lobbied against the Obama-era policy for years. Coincidentally, the National Park Service’s statement on the reversal echoes the industry’s arguments: “It should be up to our visitors to decide how best to keep themselves and their families hydrated during a visit to a national park.

Sierra Club campaign director Lauren Derusha Florez is calling for park superintendents to resist. “We know that many of our parks want to do away with bottled water,” she wrote in a blog post. “Let’s make sure they know that we support them in that move, even if the current administration doesn’t.”


It's The Economy, Stupid

Psst, Zinke — national monuments create jobs just the way they are!

Ahead of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s Thursday announcement regarding the fate of the bundle of national monuments under review, Democrats tried to level with the conservative on his own terms.

Joint Economic Committee Democrats created a packet of fact sheets urging Zinke to keep monuments as they are for their economic benefits. “Conservation of these lands creates an economic engine that can be sustained for generations,” said a statement from the office of Senator Martin Heinrich, the group’s ranking member.

The areas around national monuments benefit from substantial revenue from activities such as recreation, service jobs, and tourism, as the Committee’s report outlines. For example, travel and tourism account for 44 percent of private employment in the region surrounding Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante.

So far, Zinke has said he’d maintain designations for six of the 27 monuments. But he hasn’t yet revealed a final decision on contentious spots like Grand Staircase or Bears Ears, both in Utah.

Zinke’s June recommendations to President Trump hinted that Bears Ears might lose some of its land — despite that the majority of public comments implored DOI to leave the monument as it is.


Rollbacked into corner

The oil industry fears Trump’s regulatory rollback could backfire.

The fossil fuel industry has largely applauded the administration’s assault on environmental policy, like green-lighting controversial pipelines. Oh, and don’t forget that Trump “canceled” the Paris Climate Agreement.

Now, Politico Pro reports that some industry insiders say the Trump administration’s hasty environmental rule–scrapping has gone too far — and they’re getting worried about what might happen if disaster strikes.

“Every industry wants regulations that make sense,” Brian Youngberg, an energy analyst, told Politico. Trashing too many rules could lead to an environmental catastrophe, and might prompt even stricter regulations down the road.

Imagine a major disaster occurred — say, one akin to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. People might not look kindly upon President Trump’s executive order in April that reversed Obama-era restrictions on offshore drilling. Trump’s move abolished key safety improvements and opened up environmentally sensitive areas in the Gulf, the Arctic, and the Atlantic Ocean to potential oil drilling.

If a disaster were to happen, an anonymous source at an oil and gas company told Politico, “[W]e’d be painted with it as an entire industry.”


forecast: flying pigs

Here’s how a Republican Congress might talk itself into taxing carbon.

Bare with us as we lay this out, it’s a little bit of a Hail Mary-meets-Rube Goldberg bankshot.

  1. Republicans yearn to take advantage of the fact that they control the House, Senate, and presidency by making permanent cuts to corporate taxes.
  2. They go searching the Congressional couches for spare change to pay for those cuts, because Senate rules don’t allow big revenue changes that put the country deeper into the red.
  3. In their desperation to get something done, Republicans partner with Democrats to pass a carbon tax, which covers the corporate tax cuts they so desperately want.

Could this actually happen? The New York Times says this scenario is “widely acknowledged as a long shot.” And Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine points out that “it seems absurd to believe [Congress] might achieve it under a president who denies the very existence of anthropogenic global warming and can’t seem to pass even bills he likes.”

A more likely scenario: Republicans reluctantly abandon their chance to truly shake up the tax code, pass some temporary tax-relief measures for businesses (without the help of Democrats), and declare victory.


up in smoke

British Columbia is having its worst wildfire season in recorded history.

More than 2,500,000 acres have burned there since April 1, nearly six times the typical amount for a full year.

B.C. extended a state of emergency on Friday to help speed the flow of aid to affected communities. More than $300 million has been spent fighting the fires so far, and one remote wildfire is so out of control that the B.C. Wildfire Service called it “a force of nature.”

NASA analysis shows that the thick smoke plumes coming from B.C. are so dense they broke records. Smoke like that can “turn day into night,” said Mike Fromm, a meteorologist with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. Scientists worry that massive amounts of black soot will head northward toward Greenland, potentially speeding up ice melt there.

A 2013 study found that Earth’s boreal forests — a broad swath from Alaska and Canada to northern Europe and Russia — are burning at a rate unseen in at least 10,000 years. Some climate models show this vast forest may have already switched from a net carbon sink to a source of carbon emissions.

Though fire season is more than half over, there’s still time for the B.C. wildfires to grow. The latest forecast from Natural Resources Canada shows extreme fire danger in parts of British Columbia, with an outlook for above average severity through the end of September.


The Next #NoDAPL?

Minnesota report: Proposed tar sands oil pipeline would harm tribes.

On Thursday, state regulators released their final environmental review of a proposed replacement for an aging pipeline owned and operated by the Canadian company Enbridge. The $7.5 billion project would cut through sacred Native American lands in northern Minnesota.

If approved, tribes have promised the pipeline would face opposition akin to the demonstrations at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The state’s final review expressed significant concern over environmental justice, citing “disproportionate and adverse impacts … to both low-income and minority populations … as well as those populations residing or using lands in the vicinity of the Project, in particular American Indian populations.”

All of the potential routes for the pipeline would slice through lakes used to grow wild rice, a crop sacred to the region’s Ojibwe tribes. Activists opposed to the pipeline, such as Honor the Earth founder Winona LaDuke, want the state to consider a “no-build alternative.”

“I want to trust the government of Minnesota to do the right thing,” Duke told the Duluth News Tribune. After additional hearings and public testimony, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is expected to make a final decision by April 30.