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Stuff that matters


Dakota Access clash

Police tactics at Standing Rock have escalated to using water cannons in the freezing cold.

On Sunday night, according to numerous news reports and live social media postings, North Dakota law enforcement sprayed a group of about 400 protesters, or Standing Rock “water protectors,” as they were trying to get into position to block construction work on the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.

Temperatures in North Dakota on Sunday dipped into the 20s. According to the Indigenous Environmental Network, 167 people were injured in the clash with police, and seven went to the hospital.

The Morton County Sheriff’s Department told the Bismarck Tribune that activists had started several fires and claimed that rocks and logs were thrown at officers, calling it an “ongoing riot.” Activists told the Guardian they had lit two small fires because they were trying to keep warm. Police also used tear gas and percussion grenades, according to media reports.

North Dakota officials have come under increasing criticism for using militarized gear and tactics against the activists, who are attempting to stop the pipeline from jeopardizing what they consider the sacred land and water of the Standing Rock Sioux.

For more on the Dakota Access protests, see Grist’s ongoing coverage.


grist 50

Meet the fixer: This organizer is uniting millennials.

A lot of climate hawks spent late 2016 and early 2017 in reassessment or mourning. Meanwhile, Anthony Torres was busy channeling his fellow engaged millennials into direct action, including coordinated sit-ins at the offices of New York’s Chuck Schumer, the new Senate Minority Leader, and Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware. The message: Do not play ball with the polluter-in-chief.

The son of a Nicaraguan immigrant father and a working-class New Yorker mother, Torres grew up with sea-level rise on his Long Island doorstep, and he understands how poverty, climate, and other social challenges are all knitted together. He’s proven especially adept at rallying peers to his side, both in an official capacity at the Sierra Club (where he helped coordinate communications and direct actions that aided in a defeat of the Trans-Pacific Partnership) and in extracurricular work with groups like #AllOfUs, a progressive collective aimed at organizing young people around threatened communities.

His advice on connecting different constituencies: “Activists need to create a story that is accessible to people who are not necessarily in our movements but who are in need of a bold and inspiring vision,” Torres says. “To me, it’s telling a story of America that intersects with race, gender, and class” and turning what might seem like differences into “a weapon in our arsenal that creates an America that never has happened before — a country for all of us.”


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


Watch the throne, Elon

Europe is going all in for batteries.

Daimler AG, the company behind Mercedes-Benz, just broke ground on a $543 million lithium-ion battery plant in Germany, Bloomberg reports. Consider it a response to Tesla’s $5 billion gigafactory under construction in California, as car makers and utilities drive demand for more powerful and less expensive batteries.

The German plant is the first of many such factories planned in Europe, including a 4 billion-euro ($4.5 billion) battery plant slated for Sweden by 2023. With all this investment in batteries, prices could fall by 43 percent, estimates Bloomberg’s energy research unit — enough to make electric cars cheaper than their fossil-fueled counterparts by 2030.

Cheap, reliable batteries are the key to affordable electric cars and greener energy systems, as we’ve reported. Finland and Italy are also testing large-scale battery storage systems to use with solar and wind projects. Good storage can turn an erratic and unpredictable power supply into a stable and responsive one.

And of course, growth of EVs and utility-scale solar are interconnected, too. As more plug-in vehicles draw their energy from an increasingly renewable-powered grid, more storage will be necessary to meet that demand. It just keeps coming back to batteries.


canary meet coal mine

Coal impacts could push 122 million people into extreme poverty by 2030.

That’s according to a report from the global anti-poverty organization Oxfam, which specifically calls for Australia to stop propping up the coal industry — especially the $300 million in subsidies it’s offered up for a proposed mine in Queensland.

“Against the backdrop of an imperiled Great Barrier Reef and extreme weather disasters, Australia’s carbon pollution is continuing to climb — the tragic consequence of more than a decade of climate policy paralysis and short-term political opportunism,” Helen Szoke, CEO of Oxfam Australia, says.

Oxfam notes that increased investment will especially harm the world’s poor in developing nations that aren’t benefiting from the energy production. The report also hails efforts by China and India to ditch coal for renewable energy.

From an economic point of view, Australia might do well to heed Oxfam’s advice and to keep an eye on what’s happening in the U.S., where the market is moving away from coal, even while the Trump administration is trying to breathe new life into the industry.

Just this year, U.S. utilities announced the closure of eight coal-fired plants that generate enough energy to power the country of Qatar.


cut the crap

Even Republicans are nervous about Trump’s budget.

Though the official release is planned for Tuesday, leaked versions of the 2018 budget proposal show dramatic funding cuts for environmental programs — even those supported by the president’s own party.

The budget, which still needs congressional approval, would cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 35 percent. It also slashes funding for cleanup programs like Superfund, but adds cash for water infrastructure.

After submitting an original budget blueprint, the Trump administration faced backlash from Democrats and environmental groups about the drastic cuts. But Republicans are wary of what President Trump might propose, too.

Lisa Murkowski, a Republican senator from Alaska, has said she opposes the elimination of programs like Energy Star and ARPA-E, which funds energy technology research. Both were cut in the draft budget. Republicans have also defended regional water programs that Trump proposed cutting.

Murkowski, along with five other Republican senators, urged Trump to set aside money for the Department of Energy’s research in a May 18 letter. “Governing is about setting priorities, and the federal debt is not the result of Congress overspending on science and energy research each year,” they wrote.


Grist 50: Cameron Russell's picks

Meet the fixers: These activists want carbon polluters to pay.

When you’re confronted with an issue as big and urgent as global climate change, what do you do? Camila Thorndike and Page Atcheson decided to pick one avenue of attack and go hard. They’re the creators of the Put A Price On It campaign, which is a joint project of Our Climate, an advocacy organization lead by both Atcheson and Thorndike, and Years of Living Dangerously. Their premise: The best way to fight climate change is simply to make carbon pollution more expensive — and organizing youth leaders around the country to push state legislation is the best way to make that kind of carbon tax happen.

Put A Price On It launched in August, which means the campaign was still in its infancy when it was hit with some pretty bleak news on Nov. 8. But Atcheson and Thorndike were focused on policy change on the state level all along — and there’s still quite a bit of hope there.

“It’s impossible to not be optimistic when your job is to work with young people,” Atcheson adds. The day after the election, “our students had the attitude of: ‘We need to work harder, we’re even more dedicated than we were yesterday, we have to move forward and our future is at stake — and we’re the most effective messengers at that.’”


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


Beyond Standing Rock

Watch the story behind the government dam that created Lake Oahe.

A new video series from Reveal spotlights indigenous peoples’ struggles with the dams, highways, and pipelines that invaded their land.

In one video, Candace Ducheneaux remembers life before Lake Oahe, a reservoir on the Missouri River that formed after Oahe Dam was completed in 1958. “The bulk of the lands that were inundated by the floodwaters were Indian lands,” she says. One thing lost under the newly formed lake: her childhood home.

Oil now flows through the Dakota Access Pipeline under Lake Oahe, a source of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux.

Don’t miss the rest of Reveal’s series, which brings us the stories of: