Briefly

Stuff that matters


Icelandia

Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital, is going carbon-neutral.

The city of 120,000 recently announced its plan to hit that goal by 2040.

Iceland is already one of the lowest carbon emitters per capita among wealthy countries, thanks to the island country’s ample supply of geothermal and hydroelectric heat and energy.

But Iceland, as the name suggests, also has plenty to lose in a warming world, with its tourist-attracting glaciers melting at an alarming rate. For complicated geological reasons, that could lead to even more volcanic eruptions.

So Iceland’s biggest city — where more than a third of the country’s population lives — wants to reduce emissions from transportation. Reykjavík aims to triple its public transit use by 2030, double bicycle use, and encourage people to switch to electric cars with incentives like free parking and tax benefits.

The tricky part will be cutting back on the sprawl that induces driving. Outside the city center, streets are oriented toward moving cars rather than pedestrians or public transportation. “Carbon neutrality always comes down to urban form,” transportation expert Jarrett Walker told The Guardian. “Many people in these towers can’t even walk to a convenience store.”

That’s inconvenient and bad for the environment. Changing it should make Reykjavíkians happier and maybe slightly safer from catastrophic climate change.


Grist 50: Van Jones' pick

Meet the fixer: This entrepreneur is diversifying cleantech.

Volt Energy does more than just finance and build green energy projects. A core tenet of Gilbert Campbell’s company is to provide “ladders of opportunity” in cleantech for people of color, who are drastically underrepresented in the field (last year, only 7 percent of solar workers were black). For Campbell and Volt, that means partnering with historically black colleges and universities, churches, and other black-owned businesses on clean energy installations and education initiatives.

Take an ongoing Volt project at Howard University. In addition to working on the largest solar installation at a historically black college, Campbell and his team are offering a mix of workshops at the business, engineering, and communications schools, so the students get first-hand instruction on the ins and outs of the industry. As a result of this engagement, 27 Howard engineering students will now be attending the upcoming American Association of Blacks in Energy conference to network with energy executives.

“We’re equally excited engaging these students as we are with the business side,” Campbell says. That ethos is apparent in all Volt projects. Installing the largest church solar project in D.C. wasn’t enough, for example: Campbell’s team also worked with the church to coordinate a green literacy program for congregation members.


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


Pachyderms for permafrost

How to defuse the methane timebomb in the Arctic? Unleash the mammoths!

A scientist living deep in Siberia thinks that bringing mammoths back from extinction could keep the Arctic ground perma-frozen. Keeping it frozen is important. In some places the permafrost reaches a mile deep; thaw that out, and it will belch clouds of methane into the atmosphere, accelerating climate change.

A new documentary explores this wonderfully off-the-wall idea.

How would it work? When snow piles up, it insulates the ground, preventing the earth from going into deep freeze. The scientist, Sergey Zimov, thinks that these revived mammoths would get hungry come wintertime and scrape off the snow to get at the grass underneath. Exposed to the icy darkness of Siberian winter, the ground would then freeze harder and stay frozen longer.

Zimov and his son, Nikita, now have a Kickstarter campaign to bring herbivores to a demonstration plot, which they call Pleistocene Park. They can’t bring in mammoths just yet, because as of today they’re still extinct, but scientists are working on that, too.


settle up

Nearly $100 million is now headed to Flint to swap out old pipes.

That’s the outcome of an agreement to settle a lawsuit that sought to force the state of Michigan to provide door-to-door delivery of bottled water to homes in the city. Flint’s drinking water was deemed unsafe in 2015 due to high lead levels.

The suit was filed last year by a coalition that includes the Natural Resources Defense Council, Michigan’s ACLU, and a local resident. A judge approved the settlement on Tuesday.

Under its terms, $97 million will be set aside to replace lead or galvanized steel water pipes going into Flint homes with copper pipes. The state has three years to assess the piping and swap it out, if need be, in at least 18,000 area residences.

The deal allows the state to avoid delivering water to homes, and it provides a timeline for shutting down nine distribution centers in Flint that offer free bottled water and filters. If monitoring finds that lead levels are below an EPA-set threshold for the first half of 2017, Michigan can close those stations in September.

“For the first time, there will be an enforceable commitment to get the lead pipes out of the ground,” said Dimple Chaudhary, an NRDC attorney. “The people of Flint are owed at least this much.”


Bam!

Trump just took a sledgehammer to Obama’s climate legacy.

“Together we are going to start a new energy revolution,” the president said just before signing an executive order to boost old, dirty energy industries.

Here’s what he’s ordering his administration to do:

  • Toss out and rewrite the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which aims to cut CO2 pollution from coal-fired power plants, as well as another rule intended to make new power plants cleaner.
  • End a moratorium on the leasing of federal land to coal-mining companies.
  • Roll back a rule that would curb methane emissions from oil and gas operations on public lands.
  • Rewrite a rule that would more closely regulate fracking on federal lands.
  • Step back from accounting for the full economic cost of climate change (aka the social cost of carbon) when making decisions.
  • Reverse an order that called for federal agencies to consider climate change when writing environmental impact statements for projects.
  • Review all federal rules to find any that stymie energy production.

(Vox has a great detailed rundown.)

This follows on the heels of Trump putting Obama’s ambitious auto fuel-economy rules on ice and attacking other environmental protections.

Some of the moves will go into effect quickly, but rolling back the Clean Power Plan and methane rule could take years and get tied up in court. Environmentalists are already plotting to take legal action and trip up Trump’s agenda in any way they can.


dakota access

It’s official: Oil is making its way through the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Energy Transfer Partners, the company that built the pipeline, reported on Monday that oil is now under Lake Oahe in North Dakota. The surrounding area, which includes burial sites and drinking water sources, is sacred to the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes. The company is prepping the full pipeline to go online.

On March 18, a judge denied yet another request from tribes to halt use of the pipeline. That ruling cleared the way for Energy Transfer Partners to pump in crude oil once construction was finished. Soon after the ruling, there were acts of vandalism and “coordinated physical attacks” on the pipeline, like burn damage in Iowa and South Dakota, the company said.

The Sioux have filed several legal challenges to the pipeline, but the main case may not see resolution until May. Numerous tribes have charged that the pipeline violates environmental, treaty, and cultural rights. If a legal challenge is successful, the $3.8 billion project could be taken offline.

“My people are here today because we have survived in the face of the worst kind of challenges,” said Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chair Harold Frazier. “The fact that oil is flowing under our life-giving waters is a blow, but it hasn’t broken us.”


Grist 50

Meet the fixer: This innovator is stitching together a clothing movement.

When Rebecca Burgess was working in villages across Asia, she saw the impacts of the clothing industry firsthand: waste, pollution, widespread health problems. But in these same communities, from Indonesia to Thailand, Burgess also saw working models of local textile production systems that didn’t harm anyone. She was inspired to build a sustainable clothing system — complete with natural dye farms, renewable energy-powered mills, and compostable clothes — back home in the United States.

The result is Fibershed, a movement to build networks of farmers, ranchers, designers, ecologists, sewers, dyers, and spinners in 54 communities around the world, mostly in North America. They are ex-coal miners growing hemp in Appalachia and workers in California’s first wool mill. In five years, Burgess plans to build complete soil-to-soil fiber systems in north-central California, south-central Colorado, and eastern Kentucky.

People have asked her, “This has already left to go overseas — you’re bringing it back? Are you sure?” She is. Mills provide solid, well-paying jobs for people “who can walk in off the street and be trained in six months,” Burgess says. “This is all about dressing human beings at the end of the day, in the most ethical way that we can, while providing jobs for our home communities and keeping farmers and ranchers on the land.”


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