Briefly

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.


Let them eat Trump steaks

Trump wants to slash money for food and farming.

The administration’s proposed $4.1 trillion budget cuts food stamps by 25 percent, which would boot some 10 million people off the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). It also chops crop insurance subsidies by 36 percent while wringing 21 percent out of the Agriculture Department’s budget by getting rid of rural economic development and conservation programs.

After the release of the President Trump’s budget on Tuesday, a diverse array of urban and rural advocates, including Republicans, were united in opposition. Here’s a sampling of what they are saying:

The anti-poverty campaigner: “Cutting essential, effective anti-poverty programs like Medicaid and SNAP will exacerbate inequality, poverty and despair.” — Billy Shore, founder of Share Our Strength, a nonprofit working to end childhood hunger.

The farmer’s group: “By shredding our farm safety net, slashing critical agricultural research and conservation initiatives, and hobbling our access to foreign markets, this budget is a blueprint for how to make already difficult times in rural America even worse.” — Ron Moore, American Soy Association president and a soybean farmer in Illinois.

The Senate power broker: “The proposed cuts to important farm and family safety net programs, including crop insurance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, are harsh and short sighted.” — Debbie Stabenow, Democratic senator from Michigan, and the person you need to know to get any farm bill passed.

Add all this up and it means that this part of the budget has little chance of getting past Congress. Funding for food and farm programs has always brought together unusual bedfellows. In this partisan era, it’s a rare area of bipartisan agreement.


tripled threat

The sea is rising three times faster than we thought.

Global sea-level rise before 1990 was smaller than previously thought — which means all the sea-level rise we’ve observed since 1990 has been happening much faster than we knew, according to new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

The backstory: Before satellites, sea-level measurements were all over the map, literally — scientists used local tide gauges to tell how fast the sea was rising in that particular location. Problem is, those changes vary widely from place to place, which makes finding the global average very tricky.

The new research in PNAS reexamined these measurements and found that before 1990, the global sea-level rose about 0.42 inches per decade. Then from 1993 to 2012, global sea level started rising 1.22 inches every decade — triple speed.

Lead author Sonkë Dangendorf says the faster rate is likely due to new meltwater from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets plus the thermal expansion of the warming ocean itself.

Sea-level rise will likely continue to accelerate this century, Dangendorf told the Washington Post, but human actions (cough, Paris treaty, cough) still have a lot of power to determine how much, and how fast, it rises.


upset the agenda

Congress is not happy about Trump’s budget taking away environmental protections.

On Tuesday, Trump released his fleshed-out 2018 budget as expected. Democrat and Republican representatives were upset by the following cuts:

  • The Great Lakes program would be eliminated. According to Rep. Dan Kildee, a Michigan Democrat, “In eliminating Great Lakes restoration funding, President Trump is threatening our state’s jobs, our livelihood, and our way of life.”
  • Crop insurance, which protects farmers in case of crop loss, would be cut 36 percent. Rep. Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota Republican, called these cuts “misguided” and said that they “fail to address the biggest drivers of debt in our country.”
  • Many water-related programs would be eliminated, like rural water assistance and grants that clean up abandoned mines. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat, said that Trump “wants to slash the basic programs that keep Texas drinking water clean, stop diseases from spreading, and care for vulnerable seniors.”
  • Several coastal funds face cuts or elimination, such as grants for projects like erosion management. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican, called this a “deal breaker.”

One lawmaker, however, was excited about the 31 percent cut to the EPA: Sen. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican who led many attacks on EPA as head of the Environment and Public Works Committee. The EPA is “one of, if not the most, bloated federal agencies,” he said.


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 Nevada, 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.