Stuff that matters

Sweden again

Sweden plans to give tax breaks for fixing stuff instead of throwing it away.

It’s a response to the strange situation we’re in, where buying and shipping a new pair of shoes to your doorstep can be cheaper than repairing your old ones.

On Tuesday, Sweden’s ruling Social Democrat and Green Party coalition will submit a series of proposals to parliament. One would cut the tax rate on repairs to shoes, clothes, and bicycles from 25 to 12 percent, the Guardian reports. Another would allow half of the labor cost of repairing large appliances — fridges, ovens, dishwashers — to be claimed back on incomes taxes.

That’s not all: There’s also a plan for a “chemical tax” on new computers and appliances to cover the environmental cost of those new, shiny, and often unrecyclable materials. The parliament will vote on all the proposals in December.

“I believe there is a shift in view in Sweden at the moment,” Per Bolund, Sweden’s minister for financial markets and consumer affairs who spearheaded the new incentives, told the Guardian. “There is an increased knowledge that we need to make our things last longer in order to reduce materials’ consumption.”

There Sweden goes again, making the rest of us look bad.

Detox Denial

Reversing Obama’s course, the Trump administration has declined to ban a dangerous pesticide.

There’s no doubt that chlorpyrifos is toxic — it poisons humans the same way it poisons bugs. The question before the EPA was this: Could be used with precautions, or is it so hazardous that it should be banned completely?

Guidelines for the pesticide already require workers to wear gloves, wash their clothing, and shower before going home. Accidentally bringing the chemical home is a special concern: Several studies have suggested that chlorpyrifos might hurt the developing brains of children. The EPA banned chlorpyrifos use in homes in 2000 and created “no-spray” buffer zones around schools in 2012.

Studies didn’t provide definitive evidence that the pesticide caused neurodevelopmental damage, but they did reveal a worrying association. That was enough for the EPA to suggest a ban under Obama. Now the EPA is saying it won’t ban the chemical “without first attempting to come to a clearer scientific resolution on those issues.”

Lawsuits from environmental groups forced the EPA to reconsider this chemical in the first place, and there’s no doubt that there are more lawsuits to come.

Pal Gore

Your favorite climate doc is getting a sequel because, it turns out, we couldn’t handle the truth.

Global warming is still inconvenient and it’s still coming to drown us all! Unless we’re able to successfully resist the whims of a certain Tropical Tan–obsessed climate denier, that is.

This is the premise of Al Gore’s latest project, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, which is — as you guessed — a sequel to his 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth. 

The sequel has an actual, real-life villain that Cormac McCarthy couldn’t write better. We’re hoping that Gore was able to wrangle Javier Bardem to portray Trump in at least a few reenactment scenes.

Anyway, Grist will give $20* to the first person who’s able to make a ringtone out of this Gore line: “Don’t let anybody tell you that we’re going to get on rocket ships and live on Mars.”

*No, we won’t.

Grist 50

Meet the fixer: This climate organizer works on the front lines in Miami.

Some kids dream of being a movie star or an astronaut, but not Karina Castillo. “Hurricane Andrew hit when I was 6, and it changed who I was,” she says of the historic storm that devastated a swath of South Florida near where her family lived. She decided right then to become a hurricane forecaster.

The youngest daughter of Nicaraguan immigrants, Castillo pursued her dream with the intensity of the storms that fascinated her, earning two meteorology degrees at the University of Miami, then working at NOAA and the Miami-Dade County Office of Emergency Management. But the young scientist soon made an important discovery: “I didn’t want to sit behind a computer and program models,” she says. “I knew I could help communicate science to the public.”

After a stint developing climate curricula at the Miami-based CLEO Institute, she took a job with Moms Clean Air Force, a national coalition of parents and caretakers fighting climate change and air pollution. Castillo is now the point of contact for Florida’s nearly 100,000 MCAF members, guiding them through meetings with policymakers, media appearances, and other climate and clean-air advocacy work. She also conducts national Latino outreach for the group, work she’s eager to ramp up in 2017.

“In the Latino community, the ideas of legacy and conservation are really important,” says Castillo. “When you talk about protecting children, the mama bear comes out of people. And that’s an unstoppable force.”

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

Clean Electricity Shocker

Lower-carbon power is less likely to kill you.

That’s the finding of this new paper. To put it more precisely, the study found that switching from fossil fuels to renewable and nuclear power would not only reduce the risk of apocalyptic climate change, it would also make people and ecosystems healthier.

Um, duh? Sure, that finding might seem obvious, but there’s good reason for concern. Solar panel manufacturers, for instance, produce toxic slag. Wind turbine require tons of carbon-intensive steel and concrete. And nuclear waste will outlast us all. But, in every case, the pollution from fossil fuels is worse, according to the study.

The researchers basically created two alternate futures, one running on fossil fuels and another running on mostly clean energy. This model, at least, suggests that what’s healthier for the climate is healthier for us.


Tens of thousands of teachers are getting climate-denying propaganda in their mailboxes.

It sounds insane, but may make more sense in the context of these three anecdotes:

1. The Heartland Institute, a libertarian, climate-denying think tank, is mailing its book Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming and an accompanying DVD to every science teacher at American public schools. About 25,000 teachers out of a targeted 200,000 have already gotten the package.

2. On Wednesday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos disparaged efforts by her predecessor Arne Duncan to invest in poorly performing public schools. Her words, via ABC News: “At what point do we accept the fact that throwing money at the problem isn’t the solution?”

3. Here’s an image of the 2014 tax return of the Heartland Institute, which receives funding from ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, and other fossil fuel corporations — nearly $7 million that year:

Betsy! Looks like you can buy the results you want in public education.

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.