Stuff that matters

thanks obama

Obama put a permanent kibosh on offshore drilling in parts of the Arctic and Atlantic.

The administration announced Tuesday that President Obama will use a provision in the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to halt new offshore drilling in parts of federally owned Arctic and Atlantic waters — forever. While previous presidents have used that act to protect parts of the ocean, this is the first time it’s been exercised to enact a permanent ban on drilling. Canada will also indefinitely ban future drilling in its Arctic territory, the country said in the joint announcement.

The announcement came four weeks shy of Obama’s White House departure. President-elect Trump, a climate change denier, has vowed to undo many of Obama’s executive orders as well as dismantle the Clean Power Plan, open more federal lands to drilling, and withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

But by using an existing act instead of issuing an executive order, Obama made the reversal of this drilling ban more difficult for his successor.

“We know now, more clearly than ever, that a Trump presidency will mean more fossil fuel corruption and less governmental protection for people and the planet, so decisions like these are crucial,” said Greenpeace spokesperson Travis Nichols. “President Obama should do this and more to stop any new fossil fuel infrastructure that would lock in the worst effects of climate change.”

This story has been updated. 

Trading Death

Global trade causes more than 20 percent of air-pollution deaths.

new study in the journal Nature investigated what triggers the nearly 3.5 million annual deaths worldwide stemming from airborne particulate matter. It attributed more than 750,000 of them to goods being made in one part of the world and consumed in another.

The grim statistics center on Asia, home of cheap exports and lax environmental protections. Nearly 500,000 people succumb to smog-related illness each year on the continent, including more than 200,000 in China and more than 100,000 in India. The incidence of heart disease, lung cancer, and stroke are ratcheted up by breathing filthy air.

The main culprits behind this tragic phenomenon are buyers in the West. The study links consumption in Western Europe to almost 175,000 yearly deaths abroad and consumption in the U.S. to more than 100,000.

“It’s not a local issue anymore,” says study coauthor Dabo Guan, a professor of climate change economics at the University of East Anglia.

Asian health could benefit if the Trump administration is successful in reviving American manufacturing. Some of that health burden could shift to the U.S., which has higher air-quality standards that should result in fewer smog-related fatalities. Then again, if Trump has his way with environmental rules, all bets are off.

Detox Denial

Reversing Obama’s course, the Trump administration has declined to ban a dangerous pesticide.

There’s no doubt that chlorpyrifos is toxic — it poisons humans the same way it poisons bugs. The question before the EPA was this: Could be used with precautions, or is it so hazardous that it should be banned completely?

Guidelines for the pesticide already require workers to wear gloves, wash their clothing, and shower before going home. Accidentally bringing the chemical home is a special concern: Several studies have suggested that chlorpyrifos might hurt the developing brains of children. The EPA banned chlorpyrifos use in homes in 2000 and created “no-spray” buffer zones around schools in 2012.

Studies didn’t provide definitive evidence that the pesticide caused neurodevelopmental damage, but they did reveal a worrying association. That was enough for the EPA to suggest a ban under Obama. Now the EPA is saying it won’t ban the chemical “without first attempting to come to a clearer scientific resolution on those issues.”

Lawsuits from environmental groups forced the EPA to reconsider this chemical in the first place, and there’s no doubt that there are more lawsuits to come.

Pal Gore

Your favorite climate doc is getting a sequel because, it turns out, we couldn’t handle the truth.

Global warming is still inconvenient and it’s still coming to drown us all! Unless we’re able to successfully resist the whims of a certain Tropical Tan–obsessed climate denier, that is.

This is the premise of Al Gore’s latest project, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, which is — as you guessed — a sequel to his 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth. 

The sequel has an actual, real-life villain that Cormac McCarthy couldn’t write better. We’re hoping that Gore was able to wrangle Javier Bardem to portray Trump in at least a few reenactment scenes.

Anyway, Grist will give $20* to the first person who’s able to make a ringtone out of this Gore line: “Don’t let anybody tell you that we’re going to get on rocket ships and live on Mars.”

*No, we won’t.

Grist 50

Meet the fixer: This climate organizer works on the front lines in Miami.

Some kids dream of being a movie star or an astronaut, but not Karina Castillo. “Hurricane Andrew hit when I was 6, and it changed who I was,” she says of the historic storm that devastated a swath of South Florida near where her family lived. She decided right then to become a hurricane forecaster.

The youngest daughter of Nicaraguan immigrants, Castillo pursued her dream with the intensity of the storms that fascinated her, earning two meteorology degrees at the University of Miami, then working at NOAA and the Miami-Dade County Office of Emergency Management. But the young scientist soon made an important discovery: “I didn’t want to sit behind a computer and program models,” she says. “I knew I could help communicate science to the public.”

After a stint developing climate curricula at the Miami-based CLEO Institute, she took a job with Moms Clean Air Force, a national coalition of parents and caretakers fighting climate change and air pollution. Castillo is now the point of contact for Florida’s nearly 100,000 MCAF members, guiding them through meetings with policymakers, media appearances, and other climate and clean-air advocacy work. She also conducts national Latino outreach for the group, work she’s eager to ramp up in 2017.

“In the Latino community, the ideas of legacy and conservation are really important,” says Castillo. “When you talk about protecting children, the mama bear comes out of people. And that’s an unstoppable force.”

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

Clean Electricity Shocker

Lower-carbon power is less likely to kill you.

That’s the finding of this new paper. To put it more precisely, the study found that switching from fossil fuels to renewable and nuclear power would not only reduce the risk of apocalyptic climate change, it would also make people and ecosystems healthier.

Um, duh? Sure, that finding might seem obvious, but there’s good reason for concern. Solar panel manufacturers, for instance, produce toxic slag. Wind turbine require tons of carbon-intensive steel and concrete. And nuclear waste will outlast us all. But, in every case, the pollution from fossil fuels is worse, according to the study.

The researchers basically created two alternate futures, one running on fossil fuels and another running on mostly clean energy. This model, at least, suggests that what’s healthier for the climate is healthier for us.


Tens of thousands of teachers are getting climate-denying propaganda in their mailboxes.

It sounds insane, but may make more sense in the context of these three anecdotes:

1. The Heartland Institute, a libertarian, climate-denying think tank, is mailing its book Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming and an accompanying DVD to every science teacher at American public schools. About 25,000 teachers out of a targeted 200,000 have already gotten the package.

2. On Wednesday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos disparaged efforts by her predecessor Arne Duncan to invest in poorly performing public schools. Her words, via ABC News: “At what point do we accept the fact that throwing money at the problem isn’t the solution?”

3. Here’s an image of the 2014 tax return of the Heartland Institute, which receives funding from ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, and other fossil fuel corporations — nearly $7 million that year:

Betsy! Looks like you can buy the results you want in public education.