Briefly

Stuff that matters


Less cause for chickens to be chicken

For the first time ever, people have eaten chicken without killing a chicken.

On Tuesday, the startup Memphis Meats served strips of fried chicken and duck à l’orange that it had grown from cells in a tank. How did it compare to the barnyard variety?

“Some who sampled the strip — breaded, deep fried and spongier than a whole chicken breast — said it nearly nailed the flavor of the traditional variety,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “Their verdict: They would eat it again.”

The point is to blow up the meat industry by growing chicken more cheaply, and without the environmental and ethical entanglements of the current industry. There’s a long way to go before this kind of operation beats industrial meat on price, but the cost of production is dropping like crazy. In 2013, Mark Post created a no-slaughter burger at $325,000 per pound, last year Memphis Meats made a meatball at $18,000 per pound, and now it says it can produce a pound of chicken for $9,000.

The expanding demand for food over the next 30 years will be largely driven by humanity’s hunger for meat. If we can find a more efficient way to meet this demand, it would relieve the pressure on the strained systems that support life on earth. And chickens around the world would remember this day … for approximately two seconds, before they get distracted.


A review to a kill

Trump is sending Obama’s auto fuel economy standards back to the drawing board.

During a Wednesday visit to Michigan, President Trump will announce that efficiency standards established by the Obama administration will undergo further review, according to a senior White House official.

The Obama standards for vehicles manufactured between 2022 and 2025 were originally adopted in 2012 with a promise to automakers that a review before April 2018 would assess whether they could realistically meet the goal. Days ahead of Trump’s inauguration, Obama EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy announced the review was complete. The standards — requiring new cars and light trucks to get an average of 36 miles per gallon, up from 26 today — would remain unchanged.

The auto industry was incensed, claiming there hadn’t been proper consultation or data collection. In February, automakers reached out to new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and asked him to reconsider. Now, they’re getting a second chance at relaxed guidelines.

Another review of the standards could take years. To stand up to legal challenge, the government will have to prove the data undergirding the EPA’s original review was inadequate.

But the Trump administration contends the new review is no big deal. “I don’t think we’re saying we’re going to pull [regulations] back,” said the White House official. “We’re just doing the review that was originally agreed to.”


Mea Gulpa

This former official dodged jail time in the Flint water crisis, just has to write an apology letter.

A Michigan district court judge ordered that Corinne Miller, the former director of epidemiology at the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, publicly apologize to the residents of Flint for withholding information about the presence of the Legionella bacteria, the microbe that causes Legionnaires’ disease, in the city’s drinking water.

After pleading no contest to a charge of neglect, Miller also got a year’s probation and 300 hours of community service — essentially a slap on the wrist. She is cooperating with special prosecutors pursuing cases against several former employees of the health department and the state’s Department of Environmental Quality for their role in Flint’s water crisis.

Twelve Flint residents were confirmed to have died in 2014 and 2015 from Legionnaires’ disease, an extreme type of pneumonia. But in January, statistics released by Genesee County, where Flint is located, appeared to confirm public health experts’ suspicions that the city’s water in fact caused additional pneumonia deaths.

Miller’s attorney argued against her having to make a public mea culpa, but Judge Jennifer J. Manley said the demand was “perfectly appropriate in this case.” Considering that even more people were sickened than previously believed, it’s the least she could do.


Bye bye birdie

Climate activists carved a clever message into a Trump golf course.

A self-described “anonymous environmental activist collective” spelled out “NO MORE TIGERS, NO MORE WOODS” in six-foot-high letters at the Trump National Golf Club in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.

“It’s a protest piece against Trump’s administration’s handling of our environmental policies,” one of the activists told a local ABC affiliate, using a voice disguiser. “He’s been very aggressive in gutting a lot of the policies that we’ve had in place for a very long time. We felt it necessary to stand up and go take action against him.”

Plus the activists don’t like golf courses. “Tearing up the golf course felt justified in many ways,” one activist told the Washington Post. “Repurposing what was once a beautiful stretch of land into a playground for the privileged is an environmental crime in its own right.”

The Washington Post article originally called the action a “daring act of defiance.” Though accurate, the description irritated Eric Trump, the president’s second-oldest son:

The Post then changed its story to say the group “pulled off an elaborate act of vandalism.”

No comment from Tiger Woods, who has golfed with Donald Trump and said he plays pretty well for an old guy.


Rich plead poverty

Wealthy countries are backing away from their climate promises.

The Trump administration will participate in its first meeting of the world’s 20 largest economies later this week, and it’s probably no coincidence that G-20 finance ministers are watering down their commitment to the Paris climate change agreement ahead of time.

Back in July, the same G-20 group issued a statement saying governments should pay the $100 billion per year they had committed under the Paris accord and put policies in place to bring the agreement “into force as soon as possible.” Now, Bloomberg has a draft of a statement from the finance ministers that suggests development banks — like the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development — should raise private money to pay the bill. Governments, it argues, are already too strapped. It’s unclear which countries pushed for the change in tone.

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel is visiting the White House before the G-20 summit starts on Friday. Some see her visit “as the first opportunity to lay the groundwork to persuade Trump to keep the U.S. in the landmark Paris climate agreement,” according to Politico. Perhaps G-20 officials are trying to craft a statement that the Trump Administration would actually sign. Or maybe some of them are happy to have an excuse to pass the bill to someone else.


Site unseen

Watch Stephen Colbert take a swipe at EPA chief Scott Pruitt.

Pruitt pulled out an alternative fact last week when he claimed that carbon dioxide is not a “primary contributor” to global warming.

Colbert was not having it.

The talk show host suggested that Pruitt read his own agency’s website, which clearly states: “Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to recent climate change.”

Perhaps Pruitt thought that fact had already been deleted from the site. Since Donald Trump took office, a number of mentions of climate change and science have been edited out of EPA webpages. Thanks to Colbert’s riff, we’re betting there will be more edits in the near future.

Colbert’s best zinger on Friday night? “Maybe Pruitt’s right. Maybe CO2 isn’t the No. 1 cause of global warming. Maybe the cause of global warming is the head of the EPA blowing smoke up the oil industry’s ass.”


Dakota access

Police want to search a #NoDAPL group’s Facebook page.

The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Department in Washington state filed a warrant for information from the Facebook page of a Bellingham group fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline. This week, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion to throw it out.

According to the ACLU, the warrant “involves an overbroad and unconstitutional request for private data” and violates the First and Fourth Amendments. The Bellingham group participated in a Dakota Access march that shut down Interstate 5 last month. Police are investigating a five-car pileup they attribute to the demonstration, and are reportedly considering a charge of reckless endangerment.

Facebook notified Neah Monteiro, the page’s creator, of the warrant by email in late February, but the site hasn’t handed over the data yet.

The legal fight adds to a history of distrust between Dakota Access Pipeline demonstrators and law enforcement.

Today, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other tribal nations are marching on Washington to advocate for recognition of their sovereignty. A decision on the Standing Rock Sioux’s main legal challenge may not come until May — even though oil could fill the pipeline before then.


Dakota Access

Native Americans marched on Washington for their rights — civil, treaty, and human.

Led in part by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Native Nations Rise march was the latest mobilization in the years-long battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Braving a slurry of wet snow, thousands of indigenous people and their allies marched from Union Station to the White House. They made one notable detour to the Trump International Hotel, where they erected a tipi and Native women led a ceremonial round dance.

The march was the culmination of four days of demonstration in the nation’s capital, where tribes have gathered to pray, workshop, and rally for indigenous rights in America. The Sioux say their treaty rights were violated when the U.S. government neglected to consult with them while considering whether to approve the pipeline, a major argument in the tribe’s current lawsuit against it.

Somewhere along the route, 16-year-old indigenous climate activist, hip-hop activist, and all-around rock star Xiuhtezcatl Martinez performed songs he wrote about the #NoDAPL fight. In his own words: “But you will not break me / Anything less than grace will not shake me, break free / I call my drop to the frontline / Kill the black snake, bring an end to the pipelines.”


Peak foiled

There’s a lot more oil to keep in the ground all of a sudden.

Spanish oil company Repsol just announced that it has made the largest onshore oil discovery in the United States in 30 years: a find of 1.2 billion barrels beneath Alaska’s North Slope.

“Keep it in the ground” has become a rallying cry for climate and environmental activists in recent years, and they’re particularly intent on stopping Arctic drilling. A study published in Nature in 2015 argues that all Arctic oil needs to stay underground if we’re going to have any hope of keeping global warming below 2 degrees C, the point at which scientists think the shit will really hit the fan.

If there’s anyone still waiting for peak oil to save us from climate change, get over it. People just keep getting better at finding crude. If anything can get us out of this mess, it won’t be a scarcity of fossil fuels but an abundance of creativity. The same innovative capacity that allows humans to keep expanding the amount of oil that can be pumped out of the earth can also create laws to stop the flow and cleaner technologies to use instead.

We better get moving, though, because otherwise this new batch of oil could start flowing in 2021.