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Grist 50

Meet the fixer: This urban farmer grows in tight spaces.

In Louisiana, more than 18 percent of households didn’t have access to healthy food in 2015 (the national average is 13 percent). In urban centers like New Orleans, there isn’t enough locally grown produce to feed everyone, especially residents.

Marianne Cufone provides a fresh take on locally grown food. In 2009, she built what she describes as a “recirculating farm” on a half-acre plot in the middle of New Orleans. Using bamboo harvested from right there in Louisiana, she set up floating rafts and towers to grow plants — tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuces, strawberries — in closely packed, in various arrangements around hand dug, rubber-lined fish ponds. Water cycles between the pond and the plants, so nutrients from the fish waste fertilize the plants and the plants filter the water — no dirt required!

Cufone says her farming system is both cost- and energy-efficient, too. Startup costs totaled about $6,000, mostly to install the solar panels and backup batteries that allowed the farm operations to run mostly off-grid. And farms like this could work almost anywhere, she said. “You can grow vertically, in almost any design you want. It doesn’t matter if the land is rocky or paved or even contaminated.”

Cufone’s New Orleans farm initially sold $15 food boxes through a Community Supported Agriculture program and provided produce to local stores and restaurants. In 2011, Cufone started the Recirculating Farms Coalition to promote the idea and secure better policies to help them flourish. That includes pushing for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow recirculating farm produce to be certified organic.


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


beaker speaker

Government scientist to Trump admin: ‘Abuse of power cannot go unanswered.’

Joel Clement, former director of the Interior Department’s Office of Policy Analysis, published a scathing opinion piece in the Washington Post on Wednesday. Clement writes that the administration has chosen “silence over science” and its climate denial endangers communities, like the Alaska Native villages that he used to work with.

The piece was prompted in part because of Clement’s reassignment to the Office of Natural Resources Revenue, a branch of the department that collects royalty payments from fossil fuel companies who operate leases on public land. Clement’s bizarre job switch — for which he says he has no expertise — was one of dozens Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke implemented in June.

“It looks like an attempt to make the agency so it doesn’t work very well or [so] that the powers that be exercise their will more easily on the agency,” Senator Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, told Politico after the reorganization.

Clement believes reassignments are meant to compel people to quit as an effort to cut the department’s staff. Now, he’s calling himself a whistleblower. “Silencing civil servants, stifling science, squandering taxpayer money and spurning communities in the face of imminent danger have never made America great,” Clement writes.


we oui

That French plan to attract climate scientists? It’s working.

After his election, French president Emmanuel Macron created a program setting aside $69 million to fund researchers, especially from the U.S., to ply their trade in France. “Here, you are welcome,” Macron told scientists via Twitter, in a not-so-subtle jab at President Trump.

A month later, it appears researchers took Macron seriously. According to France’s national research agency, hundreds of climate scientists from around the world have applied for the program. Many hail from the U.S. The agency says most applicants are looking for short sabbaticals, but more than 150 applied to stay for four or more years.

Macron’s idea has its detractors. French researchers felt snubbed because their president built a shiny website to attract new talent at a time when domestic science needed more funds, according to Science. Grist’s own Nathanael Johnson pleaded with leading American climate researchers to “resist France’s allure” because their smarts are so needed here.

But when the U.S. administration casts aside scientists every chance it gets, it’s hard to argue with researchers’ interest in going where they’re wanted. One tenured climate expert told Nature that if her position were more precarious, she’d be “jumping at the opportunity.”


shorter shelf life

The Antarctic ice shelf continues to crack.

The new rift in Larsen C emerged days after a Delaware-sized iceberg broke off from the ice shelf.

Scientists aren’t totally sure of the implications, but it seems the ice shelf isn’t quite done breaking apart yet.

The same team of British scientists who announced last week’s birth of the humongous iceberg spotted the crack in high-resolution satellite data. The scientists noted the crack “may result in further ice shelf loss” in a blog post published Wednesday. The huge iceberg itself has already begun to break apart.

Ice shelves are floating extensions of glaciers, so their breakup has virtually no effect on global sea levels. The worry is the new rift is heading in the general direction of the Bawden Ice Rise, which is “a crucial point of stabilization for Larsen C Ice Shelf,” according to the British team. A destabilized Larsen C could speed up the flow of its parent glaciers to the ocean, which would have a slight effect on sea levels.

As I wrote last week, the amount of ice we’re talking about is relatively small, considering the vast amount of ice contained in the rest of Antarctica.


wake-up recall

3 million Mercedes cars got recalled over emissions concerns.

Nearly every Mercedes-Benz diesel vehicle bought in the U.K. since 2011 needs its engine adjusted to reduce pollutants, according to the recall.

The German automaker Daimler, Mercedes’ parent company, will shell out 220 million euros ($252 million) for the recall after reports surfaced that it may have evaded vehicle pollution rules by selling more than a million cars with excessive emissions in Europe and the United States.

Daimler is not the first carmaker to face pressure for exploiting loopholes in emission regulations. In 2015, investigations found that Volkswagen had installed software to make its diesel cars appear to emit less pollution in testing conditions — when in fact some of its vehicles emitted fumes 40 times more toxic than allowed.

Volkswagen learned a $22-billion lesson, so no surprise that Daimler is looking to avoid the same fate.


Facebook wall

No talking climate change to Zuckerberg, White House tells scientist.

As part of his “not running for president” cross-country tour, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg took a trip to Montana’s rapidly melting Glacier National Park last weekend.

But a few days before his visit, according to a report in Mic, the Interior Department canceled his plans to chat climate change with Daniel Fagre, a research ecologist and climate specialist at the United States Geological Survey.

“I literally was told I would no longer be participating,” Fagre told the Washington Post, adding that he received little explanation for the cancellation. The move prompted speculation that the Interior Department wanted to avoid drawing attention to *whispers* climate change.

If that was the intention, Zuckerberg wasn’t playing along. “The impact of climate change is very clear at Glacier,” he wrote on his Facebook page alongside photos from his visit. “In the last hundred years, the average global temperature has risen 1.5 degrees. But in the high elevations of Montana where Glacier is the temperature is warming at three times the global average — enough to melt glaciers.”

Glacier is not the only national park facing an identity crisis over climate change. But is Zuckerberg facing an identity crisis over trying to appear human? TBD.


shades of green

Environmentalists stand divided on California cap-and-trade.

California legislators voted Thursday to pass a cap-and-trade bill to replace its 2011 law, which has been mired in legal battles since it passed. The new bill extends cap-and-trade, a program that makes polluters buy carbon credits if they over-emit, until 2030.

From the outside, it looks like a solid win for environmentalists, and it garnered support from groups like the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Annie Notthoff, director of California advocacy at NRDC, wrote that it was “the right move at the right time for the state.”

But groups like the California Environmental Justice Alliance argue that the law doesn’t do enough for communities at the front lines of pollution, undermines local air districts, and gives industry too much flexibility. More than 50 California environmental and justice groups oppose the law, including 350.org, No Coal Oakland, and Friends of the Earth.

“If Governor [Jerry] Brown wants our state to be a global climate leader, we need to do much, much better,” said Masada Disenhouse of San Diego’s 350.org branch in a statement.

Next up in the state’s climate fight: a bill requiring the state to get 100 percent of its energy from renewables by 2045. It’s already passed the state Senate.