Briefly

Stuff that matters


Polled move

Most Ohio conservatives want to pay for renewables and stop propping up coal.

A new poll from Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies surveyed Republican and independent voters in Ohio and found something surprising: A full 60 percent say they would support rules requiring more renewable energy production in Ohio. And 56 percent said they’d be willing to pay $5 or more per month for renewable energy. 

That’s not all! The poll shows that those same voters “definitely” or “totally” (which kind of sounds like the same thing …?) don’t want their money going toward keeping old coal plants operational. Two-thirds of conservatives polled oppose new fees to keep coal and nuclear plants online. Don’t believe me? Look at this chart!

Public Opinion Strategies

In sum: A majority of Ohio conservatives don’t want to fund coal and overwhelmingly support expanding renewable energy — and would be willing to pay more for it. So, why have state GOP lawmakers been trying to kill renewable energy standards and shore up old coal and nuclear plants in Ohio?

Contrary to what we’ve seen from the White House, clean energy is pretty popular with conservatives. Most Republicans have supported renewable energy development for years.


be sill my heart

Could we retrofit Antarctica’s glaciers to keep them from collapsing?

Here’s the idea: Build underwater barriers in front of the glaciers most vulnerable to collapse, keeping warm ocean water from sloshing in to melt them.

Princeton glaciology postdoc Michael Wolovick presented this concept at the American Geophysical Union conference in December, as the Atlantic reports.

The Antarctic glaciers Wolovick studies are subject to disastrous feedback loops: The more they melt, the more they are exposed to melt-inducing seawater. Recent studies have suggested these massive stores of ice could collapse much faster than previously thought, potentially raising sea levels by 5 to 15 feet by the end of the century (that’s seriously bad news for coastal cities).

Wolovick has been researching the feasibility of slowing that collapse with ‘sills’ constructed out of sand and rock along the fronts of these vulnerable glaciers. Unlike a seawall, they would be entirely underwater, but would keep warm ocean water from reaching a glacier’s vulnerable base.

That could stall glacial retreat dramatically, and maybe even reverse it. In Wolovick’s virtual experiments, even the least successful version of the sills slowed a glacier’s collapse by 400 or 500 years.

It’s all still a huge if, Wolovick admits, that requires more research. But if it works, it could buy some crucial time against sea-level rise.


stranger things

Puerto Rico’s power outage keeps getting weirder and more infuriating.

It turns out that the territory’s utility has been withholding supplies needed to restore power after Hurricane Maria.

In a tense, armed standoff last weekend, FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers seized much-needed electrical equipment from a warehouse owned by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, Kate Aronoff reported for the Intercept. Governor Ricardo Rosselló said the Department of Justice is investigating the power utility after the incident.

The feds quickly distributed the seized materials to contractors — who were apparently spending their time watching movies in their trucks because they didn’t have the supplies they needed.

Because the energy infrastructure in Puerto Rico is more than twice as old as the rest of the United States, many of the parts needed to repair the damaged grid aren’t readily available and need to be manufactured. The lack of materials has contributed to the epically slow recovery on the island.

Needless to say, people are really pissed off. “Hundreds of thousands of families have been in the dark for more than 125 days, people keep dying, and businesses continue to close due to the lack of energy while the necessary spare parts were in the possession of PREPA,” Eduardo Bhatia, minority leader of the Senate of Puerto Rico, told the Intercept.

This week’s drama is just the latest in a string of mismanagement that has plagued the recovery process, including the canceled contract with Whitefish Energy.


Enviro-detrimentalist

Trump admin lets Florida opt out of controversial offshore drilling plans.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Florida Governor Rick Scott met on Tuesday to discuss the Trump administration’s offshore drilling plan, which would open up American-controlled areas for offshore drilling.

The plan was announced less than a week ago, but Zinke has already agreed to take Florida off the table.

Is Scott an environmental champion? The Florida EPA has eliminated 600 employees since the Republican took office in 2011, and a 2015 investigation found that EPA administrators in his state had been banned from using the term “climate change.” Scott even supported offshore drilling a few weeks after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill devastated the coast of Florida in 2010.

Scott’s newfound commitment to environmental protection could have something to do with the fact that he’s expected to run for Senate in 2018. His would-be opponent, Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, is a longtime opponent of offshore drilling. A 2016 survey showed 47 percent of Floridians oppose offshore drilling, a nearly 10-point increase from 2014.

In his statement, Zinke accepted Scott’s argument that Florida is “unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.” Governors of coastal states like New Jersey, Washington, and California also say Trump’s drilling plan poses a threat to their coasts. Where’s their opt-out button?


power play

New York City is taking BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Royal Dutch Shell to court.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday that the Big Apple is filing suit against the five major oil companies for climate change-related damages.

“We’re bringing the fight against climate change straight to the fossil fuel companies,” the mayor said in a statement. “As climate change continues to worsen, it’s up to the fossil fuel companies whose greed put us in this position to shoulder the cost of making New York safer and more resilient.”

A report by Climate Central ranks New York the American city most vulnerable to major coastal flooding and sea-level rise, putting 245,000 of its residents at risk. Another study predicts that by 2030, storms as intense as Hurricane Sandy — which cost more than 40 lives and caused $19 billion in damages — are likely to hit every five years.

New York will also divest $5 billion in fossil fuel investments from its pension funds, a move the city’s Public Advocate, Letitia James, has been pushing for months.

“Given the fact that by 2100 or sooner, many areas of our five boroughs where a lot of low-income residents live will experience chronic flooding, it’s really critically important that we step up and put our money where our mouths are,” James told Grist last month.


Flood follows fire

A deadly mudslide flowed through Southern California’s wildfire-blackened land.

A rainstorm on Tuesday sent a waist-high flow of debris through Santa Barbara County that splintered homes, mired freeways, and killed at least five people, the Los Angeles Times reports.

A chain of weather-related disasters in California created the conditions that led to the mudslides. There was the four-year drought, followed by rains so heavy that officials had to evacuate an entire town beneath an eroding spillway. A flush of new plant growth burst out across the state after the rain — but green turned quickly to brown as summer baked the vegetation into tinder.

The last nine months were hotter and drier in Southern California than they’d been in over a century. Add a spark and howling winds, and you get the worst fires in California history. Now, heavy rain has fallen on the scorched land — without leaves to protect it, or living roots to hold it in place — leading to floods and mudslides.

As climate change intensifies, so do the extremes in weather. And California weather has been nothing if not extreme in recent years.


the powers that be

One of Trump’s attempts to save coal was just killed by his own people.

On Monday, the five-member Federal Energy Regulatory Commission unanimously squashed a Trump administration plan to give coal, hydroelectric, and nuclear power plants a boost. Trump had nominated four of those five commissioners.

The rejected rule was proposed by Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry in September. It would have subsidized power plants that have enough fuel onsite to keep making electricity for 90 days. (Only coal, hydropower, and nuclear power plants would meet this standard.) The justification was that America needed to provide an incentive for generators that can reliably provide electricity in all sorts of situations.

FERC commissioners were fine with that goal — they asked electric grid operators to report back to them about their plans to keep systems resilient in the face of emergencies. But the regulators said that giving a subsidy to certain kinds of power would violate the law.

It’s a big victory for natural gas and renewable electricity, and another strike against coal, nuclear, and hydro.


pressing problem

Mainstream media sucks at talking about climate change.

Last year, you would have needed blinders on to miss the mounting signs of climate change. 2017, by most measures, was the worst hurricane season in history. Then, there were the deadly wildfires, the extreme droughts, the ash falling from the sky.

And yet new analysis from the watchdog group Public Citizen reveals that the media mostly failed to connect climate change to relevant news stories last year.

Articles about record-breaking temperatures were most likely to make the connection, albeit only a third of the time. It was hard to find anywhere else. Only 9 percent of stories about historic wildfires and record floods discussed climate change; just 4 percent of those looking at last year’s amped-up hurricanes did.

The report found that news stories that did use the double c-word tended to stop short of discussing solutions: Just 9 percent broached the subject of how we can ward off the worst effects.

“The Public Citizen report echos what we at Media Matters have found time and time again — news stories on extreme weather like hurricanes and heat waves too often neglect to mention that climate change is making those events more intense and damaging,” Lisa Hymas, director of the climate and energy program at Media Matters for America and a former Grist editor, wrote in an email.

When it comes to climate change, no news isn’t necessarily good news.


the storm isn't over

Hurricane survivors are still dealing with the emotional toll of 2017’s horrific storms.

People who lived through last year’s hurricanes may experience grief, anxiety, and depression for months or years, experts say.

“They’re grieving about the loss of what was,” Judith Andrews, co-chair of the Texas Psychological Association, told AP. Her organization provides free counseling to Texans affected by Hurricane Harvey.

Following a natural disaster, people experience an arc of emotional responses. This usually starts with a “heroic” phase, when people rise to the occasion to survive and help others, Andrews says. Then disillusionment sets in as people come to grips with a new reality post-disaster.

In Puerto Rico, calls to the health department’s emergency hotline for psychiatric crises have doubled following Hurricane Maria, and the number of suicides has also risen.“Hurricane Maria is probably the largest psychosocial disaster in the United States,” Joseph Prewitt-Diaz, the head of the American Red Cross’ mental health disaster response, told Grist.

Hurricanes can have long-term effects on mental health. Five years after Hurricane Sandy, the rate of adult psychiatric hospitalizations in the Queens neighborhoods hit worst by the storm are nearly double that of New York City as a whole. The city’s health department is working with local organizers to connect residents with preventative care so that they can get help before reaching a crisis point.