Stuff that matters

dakota access

The movement to divest from Dakota Access is growing, fast.

Seattle got things rolling on Feb. 7, when the city council voted to end a $3 billion contract with Wells Fargo, a major bank funding the pipeline. Now more institutions are moving to pull their money away from the pipeline’s financial backers, which include many big-name banks.

The city of Davis in California voted to divest around $124 million from Wells Fargo on Feb. 8, and Minneapolis and Philadelphia were reportedly considering doing the same. Later that week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was thinking about ways his city and its pension fund could divest.

It’s not just cities. The Muckleshoot Indian Tribe voted to divest from Wells Fargo. A bill proposed in the California legislature would require CalPERS, the state’s big public employee retirement fund, to end up to $4 billion in investments in companies backing the pipeline. The Swedish investment group Nordea banned fund managers from investing in Dakota Access.

If you want to follow suit, there’s an app for that. A San Francisco startup helps people automatically pull investments from any company funding the pipeline. The campaign seems to be working: The crowd-sourced online tracker #DefundDAPL shows total individual divestment topping $65 million.

wind in their sales

Some Republican politicians really do like clean energy.

A week after the buzzed about conservative Carbon Tax, a bipartisan group of 20 governors sent letters to President Trump and fellow governors imploring them to consider the benefits of renewables.

The Governors’ Wind and Solar Energy Coalition asked the president to modernize the energy grid, support legislation to encourage offshore wind development, put funding towards renewables research, and streamline permitting.

In the letter, the group attempted to appeal to Trump’s vested interest in helping the rural communities he has promised to lift up. The Coalition cites $222 million paid to rural landowners a year by the U.S. wind industry, the $156 million paid to landowners in areas of below-average income, and that 70 percent of wind farms are located in low-income counties.

But based on Trump’s well-documented aversion to wind energy (never come between a real estate mogul and his golf course development), the coalition of governors may be able to gain more traction with their colleagues in state government. The letter sent to governors cited recent renewable wins in states such as Michigan, Ohio, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Colorado — states led by Republicans and Democrats.

Action Jackson

Paris Jackson gave the #NoDAPL movement a shout-out at the Grammys.

It only lasted a moment, but the daughter of the late Michael Jackson started her introduction of The Weeknd and Daft Punk’s performance by encouraging other celebs to speak out against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“We could really use this kind of excitement at a pipeline protest, guys. Hashtag NoDAPL!” she said.

Jackson joins a long list of celebrities speaking out against the pipeline. As we’ve noted before, there’s a right way and a wrong way for celebrities to support activists. Here’s hoping Jackson will stay engaged and do it right.

On the other end of the political spectrum, there was this:


dam problems

You can expect to see more Oroville-style dam disasters in our future.

On Sunday, officials ordered the evacuation of nearly 200,000 Northern California residents with assurances that “this is NOT a drill.” Their communities are at risk of being flooded by water from overflowing Lake Oroville, the state’s second largest reservoir.

After years of drought, California has recently been pummeled by rain and snow. That’s caused the lake’s water level to rise so much that water has flowed out not just via the main concrete spillway, but via the emergency earthen spillway, too. In early February, a gaping hole appeared in the main spillway, and it’s since grown. Authorities have determined that the second spillway is also at risk of failing.

The Sierra Club and two other environmental organizations warned about potential problems with the emergency spillway 12 years ago, but federal and state officials rejected concerns and said the spillway met guidelines, the Mercury News reports.

Situations like the one at Oroville Dam could crop up more often in coming years as climate change intensifies California’s cycles of drought and heavy precipitation. The state inspects its dams more than many others (although that’s not saying much), but extreme future storms can be expected to put enormous stress on the state’s essential water infrastructure.

From the mouth of babes

This young girl just wants to know if Congressman Jason Chaffetz believes in science.

At a heated town hall meeting in Utah this week, Hannah Bradshaw asked Chaffetz two simple questions: “What are you doing to help protect our water and air for our generations and my kids’ generations?”

And a pointed follow-up: “Do you believe in science? Because I do.”

Those questions seem reasonable, considering the congressman is a noted climate denier and recently drafted a bill that would put 3.3 million acres of public lands up for sale.

His response was predictably lackluster. After agreeing that “things thrown into our air, what is thrown into our water” affect the environment, he defended an “all of the above” energy strategy and stated his support for coal.

He eventually got around to reassuring young Hannah that he does believe in science, but boos and outbursts from the crowd ended the town hall meeting.

Republican lawmakers across the country are facing impassioned crowds demanding answers on Obamacare and other issues. In fact, all of the GOP members of Congress from Washington state seem to be hiding out from their constituents — maybe they have space in their panic rooms for a guy from Utah?

La vie sustaina-belle

Sick of American politics? The would-be leader of France just invited you over.

Top presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron has a message for the entrepreneurs, inventors, and scientists of the United States: If your president doesn’t value the sustainable future you’re building, bring it to France.

But let’s face it. France is a tough sell. The food is irritatingly fresh, the architecture tends to distract people from their cellphones, and the high-speed rail lines get in the way of SUVs.

Plus, the showoff makes the rest of the world look bad by being the only country to ramp down emissions at the necessary pace to meet international goals. Flip on a light switch in France and about 80 percent of your electricity comes from renewables and nuclear power. Who would want to move there?

easy breezy

Wind power is beating the pants off of other renewables.

The industry is growing so fast it could become the largest source of renewable energy on both sides of the Atlantic.

In America, wind power won the top spot for installed generating capacity (putting it ahead of hydroelectric power), according to a new industry report. And in the E.U., wind capacity grew by 8 percent last year, surpassing coal. That puts wind second only to natural gas across the pond.

In the next three years, wind could account for 10 percent of American electricity, Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, said in a press release. The industry already employs over 100,000 Americans.

In Europe, wind has hit the 10.4 percent mark, and employs more than 300,000 people, according to an association for wind energy in Europe. Germany, France, the Netherlands, Finland, Ireland, and Lithuania lead the way for European wind growth. In the U.S., Texas is the windy frontier.

“Low-cost, homegrown wind energy,” Kiernan added in the release, “is something we can all agree on.”

Bill is back

Will Bill Nye’s Netflix show actually save the world? I mean, we’ll take anything right now.

A trailer for the Science Guy’s new series leaves no doubt that his endeavor will be as zany and nerdy as ever. But this time around, it carries the added benefits of more star power (i.e. noted Beyoncé fan Karlie Kloss) and the freedom to binge every episode in one sitting.

Bill Nye Saves the World will premiere April 21 on Netflix as a nice little pregame for the March for Science on Earth Day in Washington, D.C. It’ll tackle hot topics like sex, technology, climate change, GMOs, and alternative medicine.

In the trailer released this week, we get a glimpse at the format of the show (think Daily Show meets the Magic School Bus) as well as some of the stars joining in on the fun.

As you’ve likely noticed, Nye has become more politically active in recent years by speaking out against climate deniers and challenging their bunk science, among other things. Joining Netflix will give him an even larger platform to dish out sick burns to science-haters.

We're sunk

California is getting soaked right now, but farmland is still sinking due to lack of water.

NASA report released Wednesday found that land in one of California’s most productive agricultural regions continues to subside rapidly because of heavy groundwater pumping.

For decades, and especially during the last five years of drought, growers have relied on pumping water from the ground when surface water wasn’t available. A 2015 report found that the San Joaquin Valley experienced record rates of ground sinkage due to pumping. Now, according to NASA’s new report, it’s gotten worse in some areas.

While the state’s surface water drought is fading, with precipitation over 200 percent of normal for this time of year in some places, the recent years of low rain will have lasting effects. Ground sink can trigger a vicious cycle of other problems by changing stream flows and causing water infrastructure damage.

Until recently, groundwater pumping was largely unregulated in California. In 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, requiring local agencies to devise management plans to monitor pumping.

That’s starting to happen, but it’s not an easy task. “[W]e’ve been living off borrowed water,” Jeffrey Mount of the Public Policy Institute of California said recently. “No one has a clear vision for how to do this. We only know that we have to.”