Stuff that matters

Indescribable feeling

We just hit 410 ppm of CO2. Welcome to a whole new world.

This is not normal: We’re on track to witness a climate unseen in 50 million years by mid-century.

In pre-industrial times, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere stood at 280 parts per million. And that number has been rising ever since, warming the planet by 1.8 degrees F (1 degree C) along the way.

CO2 levels fluctuate with the seasons, climbing a bit higher each spring. We first hit 400 parts per million back in 2013, and that became the new norm just four years later. And on April 18 this year, as predicted, we crossed the 410 ppm threshold for the first time at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii.

Climate Central

While El Niño and other natural factors have sped up CO2 concentration increases in the past two years, fossil fuel emissions are the major driver, according to Climate Central.

As fictional carb-thief Aladdin once said: “Unbelievable sights/Indescribable feeling/Soaring, tumbling, freewheeling/Through an endless diamond sky.”

He was talking about the feeling you get when thinking about carbon concentration levels, right? Because that’s how WE feel! Just kidding, we feel terrified.

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weekend plans

Are you going to the March for Science? Let us know.

Oh no — you forgot about Earth Day again. Every year. Every year this happens! Luckily, someone else made plans for you, so you don’t have to cobble together a last-minute vegan brunch or fern-planting party or something.

There are Marches for Science going on quite literally all over the world. Even at Coachella! Kendall, this is your big chance!

The point of showing up is to prove that a critical mass of people are upset (to put it mildly) that our political administration willfully ignores the collective advice of scientists around the world. The advice being: Can you just stop extracting fossil fuels to prevent the demise of the human race, please, no seriously, we’ve been over this a thousand times.

Anyway — now that you’re going, send us your photos, and we’ll share them on Grist’s Twitter. Just @ us.

And here’s some good reading for the bus ride to the march: Andrew Jewett in the Atlantic explains what needs to be done beyond marching for science. (Hint: It involves addressing the social structures that dictate how scientific policies are applied.)

Stay tuned to our Apathy Detox to learn why showing up to protests actually matters.

Grist 50

Meet the fixer: This entrepreneur helps the solar industry compete.

Behind the business of energy production, there are a lot of numbers. Usage data is essential to solar companies who are trying to figure out how to work in a given region — but it’s often hidden away in the outmoded databases of individual utility companies who aren’t in the business of accessible data storage.

Less than a year after kicking off her clean-energy career as a low-level analyst at PG&E, Elena Lucas decided she wanted to tackle that problem head-on. She cofounded the Bay area–startup UtilityAPI in 2014.

UtilityAPI wrangles the data and delivers to the companies who need it — and in doing so, it has brought the cost of installing solar panels down by 5 to 10 percent.

Lucas is also working to to make her company — and tech culture at large — more welcoming to women. Nearly half of UtilityAPI’s employees are women, most in executive positions. “I think it’s really different than a lot of other companies in the Bay Area,” Lucas says, “and I’m so proud of that.”

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

Green light special

Walmart just pledged to eliminate a billion tons of greenhouse gas.

That’s as much as Germany’s yearly emissions.

It’s hardly the first example of a business charging ahead on climate change mitigation while governments dither. Pretty much every giant corporation has made a commitment to reduce its emissions: food titan Unilever, everything maker General Electric, and IKEA (where you get your OMLOPPs), and on and on.

But what Walmart does matters. The company is such a behemoth that its policy changes trigger transformation around the globe. Walmart is the 10th largest economic entity in the world, after Canada, so this effort, dubbed “Project Gigaton,” is akin to every Canadian signing on to a strict sustainability plan.

Most of Walmart’s environmental footprint comes from other businesses extracting raw materials to manufacture Walmart’s products. So it will be pushing its suppliers to clean up their act, aiming to slash a gigaton of greenhouse gas emissions from its supply chain.

The Environmental Defense Fund has been working with Walmart to cut its emissions for years, and so there’s a track record here. In 2010, Walmart pledged to cut 28 million metric tons (like removing 6 million cars from the road), then surpassed that goal in five years. Now, they’re aiming to meet a goal 35 times larger, by 2030.

Ice, ice bergy

Gigantic icebergs have come to Canada, and the internet is losing its mind.

Every year, strong currents bring Arctic ice south along Newfoundland, Canada, to “Iceberg Alley.” Photos of a particularly large ’berg have flooded social media because, well, what’s not to love about these pretty scenes?

Iceberg season is the best season 🙌 #scenicnl

A post shared by Paddy Wadden (@paddywadden) on

For the tiny coastal enclave of Ferryland, these icebergs are the start of a busy tourist season. The one stationed next to town is classified as “large” by the Canadian Ice Service, meaning it’s between 151–240 feet tall and 401–670 feet long.

“It happens every year,” Ferryland Mayor Adrian Kavanagh told PRI. “Sometimes you’ll have lots of icebergs, other years you might get the odd one, but it all depends on the weather and the wind.”

These rogue icebergs may be run-of-the-mill for Ferryland — and annoying for shipping companies — but for the rest of us, they’re pretty breathtaking.

Toxic Tour

Protestors harangued EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt as he visited East Chicago.

“We are here because environmental racism is here,” said Rev. Cheryl Rivera, one of the activists leading yesterday’s demonstration. “We are here because thousands of families’ lives are at risk.”

After lead contamination of both soil and water was publicly revealed last year, roughly 1,000 residents fled the Superfund site in western Indiana where low-income housing was built on land once occupied by a smelter.

According to The Chicago Tribune, Pruitt spoke with residents who lived in the toxic environment. He also gave brief remarks, pointing to money EPA recently awarded to the town.

“I’m focused on getting EPA back to the basics of protecting human health and the environment, and one of my top priorities is delivering real results for the people of East Chicago,” said Pruitt.

Proposed cuts to the EPA’s budget could cause Pruitt to eat his words. According to Nancy Loeb, director of Northwestern University’s Environmental Advocacy Clinic, the breadth of programs targeted by President Trump — including the possible shuttering of the EPA’s Region 5 office in Chicago — will “pretty successfully” halt environmental protections by passing federal responsibilities to ill-equipped states.

Next stop on Pruitt’s tour: a coal-fired power plant in Missouri. Mixed messages much?

Grist 50

Meet the fixer: This farmer gives vets a chance to grow.

Fred Lewis served with the Special Forces in Afghanistan until he took a sniper’s bullet to the helmet. Nursing his injury, he returned to Kentucky, where his older brother, Mike, lived in a rural area with a lot of poverty and addiction. Working in agriculture was the one thing that gave Fred peace, but farming paid next to nothing. “It was just impossible to make a living,” says Mike. “It just seemed kind of shitty to see someone, who served his country, come home and find that the only job available was at a call center fielding complaints about Veterans Affairs.”

So Mike started the organization Growing Warriors to figure out how to make farming profitable for returning veterans. The Lewis brothers have since started 10 community gardens that employ vets across Kentucky and North Carolina and one 500-acre farm with three to four full-time veteran interns working the land.

Growing Warriors has probably gotten the most attention for growing five acres of industrial hemp. Mike envisions a network of small hemp-processing mills throughout the region, providing markets for small farmers. With outdoor gear company Patagonia pushing to establish a legal U.S. hemp market, Mike and company could be sparking a new agricultural movement.

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

put a solar panel on it

A coal company is literally putting a solar farm on top of an old coal mine.

The Kentucky-based Berkeley Energy Group has announced plans to build “the first large-scale solar farm in the Appalachian region” on top of a reclaimed coal mine, ThinkProgress reports.

Berkeley hedged that it is not “replacing” its coal projects with solar power. However: “We have already extracted the coal from this area,” a project development executive explained to ThinkProgress.

That touches on one of the problems with President Trump’s promises to bring coal back: There are many, many reasons that coal extraction is no longer a viable industry in Appalachia, and environmental regulations are not even close to the top of the list. There’s the low price of natural gas and the increasingly competitive cost of renewables, mechanization, and cheaper mining operations in Wyoming and other western states — all reasons that coal country might be turning to solar now.

It’s sort of like the “put a bird on it” approach to solar power — we don’t mind if you get a little carried away with this trend, America.

get the picture?

The Bureau of Land Management website got a fossil fuel makeover.

The agency, which tends to U.S. public lands, has lately caused quite a stir with recent changes to its homepage banner. Could BLM be trying to tell us something? Let’s take a quick trip through the site’s updates over the last few weeks.

We begin with two people on a backpacking trip, looking toward the sunrise — and, presumably, a brighter future.

Just kidding! No more future! How about a massive seam of coal instead? Two weeks ago, the bureau swapped the wholesome hikers for this wall of coal, dwarfing a tiny person and car in the corner. We get the message: Humans small, coal big.

But in case that didn’t get the point across, BLM changed things up again this week. In the newest image, people are absent altogether, though the pipeline alludes to their domination over the landscape. There are some mountains and forest fading into the background, like an afterthought.

The makeover is in line with the agency’s recent moves: Since Trump took office, BLM has sold huge leases for oil drilling and coal mining on public lands.

As BLM spokesperson Jeff Krauss told NPR, the rotating images are part of an “IT redesign” to showcase the many things the agency manages.