Briefly

Stuff that matters


#tbt

Because it’s 2017, we might have Tropical Storm Don and Tropical Storm Hilary at the same time.

After a false alarm earlier this month, a developing storm system in the central Atlantic officially earned the name Tropical Storm Don on Monday afternoon.

This storm arrives unusually early in the season — typically, the fourth named storm in the Atlantic doesn’t show up until Aug. 23. In addition to heavy surf in the Lesser Antilles, Don has generated a Category 5 snarknado online.

Partly because of its smaller-than-normal size, Tropical Storm Don faces an uncertain future. Storms like this are generally subject to outsize influence by the surrounding environment, making their behavior especially unpredictable. According to the National Hurricane Center, “it cannot be stressed enough that confidence in the intensity forecast is very low at this time.” That means Don could strengthen or evaporate entirely in the next few hours.

If you’re wondering how storms get their names, they’re chosen years in advance by an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization. ‘Don’ was added to the list in 2006, when ‘Dennis’ was retired. But speaking of metaphorical parallels to American political tempests, there’s another disturbance right now in the Pacific that’s just a hair’s breadth from being named Tropical Storm Hilary.


#bikesharesowhite

Even when bike shares are in diverse places, their users are often white.

A new study found that, contrary to popular belief, people of color don’t dislike bike riding.

So are bike shares ignored by people of color because they’re seen as signs of gentrification? Are people of color simply not interested? Why is it that only a mere 4 percent of Capital Bikeshare members in Washington, D.C., are African American, when the city is 50 percent black?

It’s not about disliking bike shares — residents of low-income, majority-minority neighborhoods had overwhelmingly positive views of the programs.

Instead, most study respondents of color cited lack of information on discount programs that might make the services more appealing. Beyond that, they were also especially concerned about safety, and not just related to helmets and sharing the road with cars. They feared that participation in bike sharing would lead to harassment or make them a target for crimes.

The rollout of bike shares, applauded for their virtues as green transportation, seem to be another instance of environmentalism not considering the concerns of people of color — which has kind of been a thing. That’s not how it ought to be, especially because those communities are among the most affected by pollution and climate change.


doublespeak

Trump may have just pulled the ol’ bait-and-switch on France’s president.

After a face-to-face meeting with President Trump in Paris over the weekend, Emmanuel Macron said he might have convinced the notorious climate denier to reconsider the Paris climate agreement.

“Donald Trump listened to me,” Macron told a French newspaper. “He understood the reason for my position.” The French president has pointedly criticized Trump’s stance on climate change, even inviting U.S. scientists to move to France so they could pursue their research freely.

Trump’s reaction to their conversation was decidedly less encouraging. “Something could happen with respect to the Paris accord, we’ll see what happens,” he told the press.

That type of noncommittal comment is a classic Trumpian maneuver. In the past, he said he’d keep Americans “in suspense” about whether he would accept losing the election and also told New York Times journalists “I think you’re going to be fine” when asked about his commitment to the First Amendment. In that same NYT interview, he spun his position on climate change, saying he would keep an “open mind” on the Paris Agreement. (Just look at how that turned out.)

It’s not the first time we’ve heard rumors about prominent figures having Trump’s ear on climate, to no avail. So much for Ivanka the Climate Hawk, right?


It is Known

Game of Thrones took its climate change metaphor even further last night.

We at Grist have long maintained that the hit HBO series takes inspiration from a slowly unfolding real-world catastrophe. “Winter is coming,” warn our ostensible heroes, while everyone else is too busy fighting to sit on a chair to notice that ice zombies are marching to end humanity.

Forget dragons; deniers are the real threat here.

Last night, the series introduced a new character, an “archmaester” played by Jim Broadbent. Too smart and informed to be an outright skeptic, the archmaester instead takes a position akin to a smug “lukewarmer” — a breed of climate contrarian who accepts that increased CO2 emissions are warming the planet, but doesn’t think humanity should do much about it.

“Every winter that ever came has ended,” Broadbent tells Sam, the series’ closest thing to a climate scientist. The archmaester ticks off a series of feared apocalypses that have failed to end the world — “Little Ice Age,” anyone? — assuring Sam the same will be the case this time.

But Sam, who has seen the white walkers himself, refuses to accept inaction and opts for more study, searching for solutions he can then convey to a true leader who will take action. (That’s Jon Snow.) In our real world, who will accept that raven?


bearer of bad tidings

Rising seas could force a large-scale retreat from U.S. shores within decades.

A new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists offers us the best look yet into how coastal communities will experience debilitating inundation this century.

Without sharp reductions in emissions, by 2100, parts of every coastal county in the continental United States will experience “chronic flooding that makes normal routines impossible” — including 24 percent of the city of Boston, 33 percent of Virginia Beach, and 54 percent of Miami.

Some especially vulnerable places, like Miami Beach (94 percent) and Galveston, Texas, (90 percent) would be essentially uninhabitable. The report predicts that relocation will be the only option in these areas.

Union of Concerned Scientists

For another eye-opening example, take the image above. By 2100, the New York and New Jersey area could experience Hurricane Sandy–level flooding twice per month. Yikes.

The study takes a fresh approach by examining the effects of tidal flooding, which varies significantly based on local geography. It also incorporates the latest science on sea-level rise, including new information about melting in Antarctica and the fact that ocean levels are rising at different rates around the world (in the U.S., the East Coast and Gulf Coast will be hit especially hard).

A companion interactive map lets you explore scenarios for your own community. Remember, though, that these scenarios are still avoidable with rapid climate action.


wise guide

Ex-EPA staffers made a how-to for resisting Trump’s agenda.

“A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump De-Regulatory Agenda,” created by Save EPA, a group of former EPA employees based in Denver, is a green take on Indivisible’s guide to holding Congress accountable.

Did you know that the Trump administration rolled back 23 environmental rules in its first 100 days alone? The effort, as the New York Times reports, is happening largely out of public view.

The agency is considering undoing protections for wetlands and limits on methane emissions from the oil industry. It’s also reportedly drafting a scheme to repeal or revise a Clean Power Plan rule that cuts CO2 emissions from power plants.

“We really do believe firmly that [the deregulations] aren’t popular,” Ellen Kurlansky, an ex-EPA employee of 29 years who worked on the guide, told Grist.

She says that participating in the rule-making process, like commenting on proposals and testifying in public hearings, is great and all, but the message needs to get out via social media and the press.

Kurlansky needed a change and left the EPA in January for reasons unrelated to the Trump administration. “But then when I saw what was happening,” she says, “I just felt like I couldn’t walk away from these issues.”


Oh Really

The House says the military should be thinking about climate change.

In a 185-234 vote, the House of Representatives rejected a defense bill amendment. The amendment would have removed a requirement that the Defense Department study climate change’s impacts on military operations in the next two decades.

The National Defense Authorization Act, passed by the House on Friday, allocates a whopping $621.5 billion to the country’s defense programs. That’s even more than the $603 President Trump asked for and $72 billion more than a defense spending limit set in 2011, Politico reports.

Republican Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, who proposed the amendment, said climate shouldn’t be a priority for the military. He asserted that the bill’s study requirement “detracts from the central mission of securing our nation against enemies.”

Forty-six Republicans disagreed with their colleague. The bill passed with language stating that climate change is a “direct threat” to U.S. security interests.

The vote adds to the chorus of military experts who have cited climate change as pertinent to military operations. Trump’s defense secretary, James Mattis, said in Senate testimony that “climate change is a challenge that requires a broader, whole-of-government response” because it will increase global instability. Sea-level rise threatens over 100 U.S. military bases.

Yeah, sounds like something worth keeping an eye on.


net loss

The internet is like the climate: Powerful interests spend a lot of money to control it.

So much to protest, so little time. You’d be forgiven if you were too preoccupied to observe the net neutrality “day of action” on July 12. But hundreds of companies and organizations participated to draw attention to internet openness — an admittedly wonky issue — and the effort generated 2.1 million comments on the FCC website.

The FCC is chaired by former Verizon lawyer Ajit Pai, who has indicated he wants to roll back 2015 regulations that govern the internet like a public utility. The rules ensure broadband providers treat all traffic equally, e.g., not charge video-streaming sites like Youtube and Netflix extra money to keep their content from buffering. Pai argues this is bad for business.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, those in the business agree. Since 2008, telecom giants like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon have spent $572 million lobbying against FCC rules, even when their public statements appear to complicate that stance. In the same time period, only the oil and pharmaceutical industries consistently spend more, reports BGR.com.

In a lobby-friendly administration allergic to the R-word (“regulation,” I mean), it looks like the internet, the climate, and the health care system are all in the same boat.


action hero

A groundbreaking study outlines what you can do about climate change.

Researchers in Sweden examined the possible steps that people can take to help tackle the climate crisis. Although a lot of resulting news coverage focused on the most effective action (having one fewer kid), the real takeaway is that individual actions still matter. A lot. Click to see how they stack up:

In fact, the researchers found that behavioral shifts could be faster than waiting for national climate policies and widespread energy transformations. As far as I know, this is the very first comprehensive analysis on the effectiveness of specific individual climate actions.

The authors’ audience was high school textbook publishers, who the researchers found prioritize relatively low-impact, easy actions like recycling and changing light bulbs. Well, guess what, buttercup? No one ever said fighting climate change would be easy.

If we don’t shift our culture (relatively quickly) to make the most meaningful changes feel inevitable, we’re not going to get a second chance. The perfect mix of worry and hope will be different for everyone, but at least now we’ve got an armload of stuff we can do to make things better.