Briefly

Stuff that matters


alive and orwellian

The Trump administration takes censoring science to the next level.

Donald Trump’s White House is using some alarming tactics to keep people quiet about climate change and other scientific matters. Over the past few days, investigations have brought some of them to light:

No more climate tweets: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke summoned Joshua Tree National Park’s superintendent to his office last month to reprimand him for tweeting about climate change, The Hill reported on Friday. Zinke made it clear that it was no longer OK for any national park to share climate change facts on official social media accounts.

Joshua Tree’s Twitter account had sent out a thread devoted to climate change:

“Science-based” gets banned: Over the weekend, the Washington Post reported that the Trump administration has forbidden health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and other federal agencies from using words such as “fetus,” “transgender,” and “science-based” in official documents for next year’s budget.

EPA employees targeted: A lawyer with the Republican campaign group America Rising (which helps find damaging info on political opponents) submitted requests for emails written by EPA staffers who had criticized the agency, the New York Times reported on Sunday. The request calls for emails that mention EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt or President Trump, along with any email correspondence with congressional Democrats who had criticized the EPA.

America Rising is affiliated with Definers Public Affairs, a communications company founded by two influential Republicans that promises to help its clients “influence media narratives” and “move public opinion.” The EPA recently signed a $120,000 contract with Definers for media monitoring.

Things are getting pretty Orwellian in here.


green light

The NAACP is bringing renewable energy to communities of color.

Over the next year, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People will install solar panels on 20 households and 10 community centers, train 100 people in solar job skills, and push for equitable solar access policies in at least five states across the U.S.

“Underserved communities cannot be left behind in a clean energy transition,” Derrick Johnson, NAACP President and CEO, said in a statement about the new Solar Equity Initiative. “Clean energy is a fundamental civil right which must be available to all, within the framework of a just transition.”

The initiative began on Martin Luther King Jr. Day by installing solar panels on the Jenesse Center, a transitional housing program in L.A. for survivors of domestic abuse. The NAACP estimated that solar energy could save the center nearly $49,000 over the course of a lifetime, leaving more resources to go toward services for women and families.

Aside from the financial benefits, the NAACP points out that a just transition to clean energy will improve health outcomes. Last year, a report by the Clean Air Task Force and the NAACP found that black Americans are exposed to air nearly 40 percent more polluted than their white counterparts. Pollution has led to 138,000 asthma attacks among black school children and over 100,000 missed school days each year.

It’s just a start, but this new initiative could help alleviate the disproportionate environmental burdens that black communities face.


follow suit

Los Angeles schemes to sue major oil companies over climate change.

California has had a hell of a year: droughts, wildfires, and now, mudslides. As taxpayers shoulder the brunt of the state’s enormous disaster relief tab, two L.A. lawmakers say fossil fuel companies should take financial responsibility for climate change-related damages.

In a written proposal, L.A. city council members Mike Bonin and Paul Koretz say fossil fuel companies did “nothing to stop their destructive ways” even though they knew their actions exacerbated climate change. They request a meeting with city attorney Mike Feuer to assess the feasibility of pursuing legal action against oil and gas companies.

In addition, the proposal suggests filing a motion to bolster New York City’s lawsuit against five major oil companies. That case, filed last Tuesday, also looks to shift the costs of climate change back on the companies responsible for causing the damage.

San Francisco and Oakland filed similar lawsuits in September 2017, arguing that oil and gas companies have failed to curtail emissions despite evidence that “global warming has become gravely dangerous.”


interiority complex

Hey — everyone can get into national parks for free on Monday.

The Department of Interior is doing something that isn’t the worst! Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Wait — the National Park Service had 16 free-entrance days in 2016. This year, there are just four. Plus, there are plans to nearly triple entrance fees at a bunch of the most popular national parks during peak season.

Let’s review what else the ol’ Interior Department has been up to lately.

A massive overhaul: On Wednesday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke proposed the biggest reorganization in the department’s history. It would shuffle tens of thousands of workers to new locations, and divide up the department’s current state boundaries into 13 new regions, affecting more than 500 million acres of land and water.

A monumental change: President Donald Trump recently downsized two national monuments in Utah, and Zinke has recommended shrinking a bunch more. Cool.

A Christmas story: On Dec. 22, the Interior quietly rescinded a bunch of climate change policies issued by the Obama administration, Elizabeth Shogren reported. Apparently, the rules were “potential burdens” to energy development.

So, uh, between the proposed fee hikes and the concern that climate change is slowly taking away our parks’ namesake glaciers and forests, you might want to take advantage of those free-entrance days and visit America’s beautiful landscapes ASAP.


Polled move

Most Ohio conservatives want to pay for renewables and stop propping up coal.

A new poll from Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies surveyed Republican and independent voters in Ohio and found something surprising: A full 60 percent say they would support rules requiring more renewable energy production in Ohio. And 56 percent said they’d be willing to pay $5 or more per month for renewable energy. 

That’s not all! The poll shows that those same voters “definitely” or “totally” (which kind of sounds like the same thing …?) don’t want their money going toward keeping old coal plants operational. Two-thirds of conservatives polled oppose new fees to keep coal and nuclear plants online. Don’t believe me? Look at this chart!

Public Opinion Strategies

In sum: A majority of Ohio conservatives don’t want to fund coal and overwhelmingly support expanding renewable energy — and would be willing to pay more for it. So, why have state GOP lawmakers been trying to kill renewable energy standards and shore up old coal and nuclear plants in Ohio?

Contrary to what we’ve seen from the White House, clean energy is pretty popular with conservatives. Most Republicans have supported renewable energy development for years.


be sill my heart

Could we retrofit Antarctica’s glaciers to keep them from collapsing?

Here’s the idea: Build underwater barriers in front of the glaciers most vulnerable to collapse, keeping warm ocean water from sloshing in to melt them.

Princeton glaciology postdoc Michael Wolovick presented this concept at the American Geophysical Union conference in December, as the Atlantic reports.

The Antarctic glaciers Wolovick studies are subject to disastrous feedback loops: The more they melt, the more they are exposed to melt-inducing seawater. Recent studies have suggested these massive stores of ice could collapse much faster than previously thought, potentially raising sea levels by 5 to 15 feet by the end of the century (that’s seriously bad news for coastal cities).

Wolovick has been researching the feasibility of slowing that collapse with ‘sills’ constructed out of sand and rock along the fronts of these vulnerable glaciers. Unlike a seawall, they would be entirely underwater, but would keep warm ocean water from reaching a glacier’s vulnerable base.

That could stall glacial retreat dramatically, and maybe even reverse it. In Wolovick’s virtual experiments, even the least successful version of the sills slowed a glacier’s collapse by 400 or 500 years.

It’s all still a huge if, Wolovick admits, that requires more research. But if it works, it could buy some crucial time against sea-level rise.


stranger things

Puerto Rico’s power outage keeps getting weirder and more infuriating.

It turns out that the territory’s utility has been withholding supplies needed to restore power after Hurricane Maria.

In a tense, armed standoff last weekend, FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers seized much-needed electrical equipment from a warehouse owned by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, Kate Aronoff reported for the Intercept. Governor Ricardo Rosselló said the Department of Justice is investigating the power utility after the incident.

The feds quickly distributed the seized materials to contractors — who were apparently spending their time watching movies in their trucks because they didn’t have the supplies they needed.

Because the energy infrastructure in Puerto Rico is more than twice as old as the rest of the United States, many of the parts needed to repair the damaged grid aren’t readily available and need to be manufactured. The lack of materials has contributed to the epically slow recovery on the island.

Needless to say, people are really pissed off. “Hundreds of thousands of families have been in the dark for more than 125 days, people keep dying, and businesses continue to close due to the lack of energy while the necessary spare parts were in the possession of PREPA,” Eduardo Bhatia, minority leader of the Senate of Puerto Rico, told the Intercept.

This week’s drama is just the latest in a string of mismanagement that has plagued the recovery process, including the canceled contract with Whitefish Energy.