Briefly

Stuff that matters


A bad turn

The first offshore wind farm in the U.S. is about to go online, despite a malfunctioning turbine.

One of the five newly installed turbines off the shore of Block Island, Rhode Island, will be late getting spinning because someone at the General Electric factory in Saint-Nazaire, France, left a six-inch drill bit inside it, which damaged critical magnets.

Fortunately, the turbine is still under warranty, so it’s GE’s responsibility to pay for floating new 60-pound magnets out to the broken turbine, hoisting them 330 feet into the air, and repairing the turbine’s generator.

The Block Island Wind Farm is noteworthy not because offshore wind is new (Europeans have been doing it since the ’90s), but because, as the first such installation in the U.S., it could herald a whole lot of offshore wind development along the Atlantic coast. The region is a significant user of coal, oil, and natural gas, but it’s geologically well-suited for offshore wind and many of its residents and leaders are motivated to switch to clean energy by the already-visible effects of sea-level rise.

Block Island has been getting its electricity from diesel generators, but now it will be able to ditch them (except for one it’ll keep for backup). Three other offshore wind projects in the region are already in the works.


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:


Spilling Secrets

An oil well off Australia leaked for weeks last year. We just found out about it.

The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority mentioned the leak in an annual report on offshore exploration but revealed no details about who operated the well.

That information came to light on Friday, when Woodside Petroleum — Australia’s largest oil and gas producer, owned by Royal Dutch Shell — admitted to owning the well on the North West Shelf of the country. The leak began in April 2016 and lasted about two months. All told, it spilled nearly 2,800 gallons of oil into the ocean.

Woodside gave a statement to the Australian Broadcasting Company claiming the spill caused no damage: “Due to the composition of the fluid, small quantity released, water depth at release site, and distance from environmentally sensitive areas, there was no lasting impact to the environment.”

Offshore oil safety expert Andrew Hopkins told the Guardian that the Australian regulator’s failure to identify who was responsible for the spill is concerning, as it spares reckless firms from justice via “naming and shaming.”

“Companies that know they will be named in the case of an incident like this,” Hopkins said, “are going to be less likely to do it.”


living on the pledge

L.A.’s promise to join the Paris Agreement is a wee bit presumptuous.

This week, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti tweeted that if the United States dropped from the deal, the city would sign on.

Just one problem, Garcetti: That’s not really a thing.

The legal infrastructure of the Paris Agreement doesn’t technically allow for cities to join, although cities and businesses have made big commitments to cut emissions alongside the agreement.

Political gimmicks aside, the mayor’s pledge shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. As Adam Rogers writes in Wired, Garcetti has mentioned joining Paris before.

California has actively framed itself as the head of the opposition to Trump’s takedown of progressive policies, and some in the state — like state Sen. Kevin De León, a Democrat — have also floated whether California could officially join the pact.

Even if it’s only symbolic, Garcetti’s tweet could hearten leaders around the world. Delegates in Bonn said they felt positively about progress on the agreement as they wrapped up talks this week — even as Trump’s decision on whether the U.S. will remain still looms.


tinker toys (or not)

Apple doesn’t want you to be able to fix your own phone.

The company has been lobbying against the so-called “Fair Repair Act” in New York — legislation that would require manufacturers to sell replacement parts and ban software locks that would keep users from repairing their own devices without a visit to the Genius Bar.

Motherboard’s Jason Koebler turned up the lobbying disclosures showing Apple’s opposition to similar bills in New York state since 2015, along with Verizon, Toyota, Caterpillar, Lexmark, and others. Similar laws are making their way through legislatures in other states, too, where Apple has also deployed reps to lobby against them.

This is all important because “right to repair” laws like the bill in New York would help extend the lifespans of some of our most resource-intensive devices by giving people more access and ability to make simple fixes.

I know, it’s a radical proposition: Rather than having to buy a new phone or pay a Genius every time you want to replace a cracked screen, you could fix and use your own phone as you see fit.


Grist 50

Meet the fixer: This professional trains people for solar jobs.

The solar industry is doing better than ever, creating well-paying jobs across the country — but those jobs aren’t evenly distributed. Oakland-based nonprofit GRID alternatives offers job training for low-income communities and people of color to help make that cleantech boom more accessible.

Erika Symmonds is at the helm of those job-training programs. She oversees existing projects and makes sure new ones reach a more diverse workforce. “Who are the people in our community who can most benefit and are most interested in this opportunity,” she asks, “and how can we make that connection?”

Raised by a single mom in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, Symmonds grew up focused on getting a good education. “What I had was pretty unique: the option of leaving the neighborhood,” she realized upon graduating from Wellesley. Plenty of people she knew back home didn’t have the same opportunity.

Her work at GRID is already making a difference: More than three quarters of program participants are people of color.


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