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Stuff that matters


Peak foiled

There’s a lot more oil to keep in the ground all of a sudden.

Spanish oil company Repsol just announced that it has made the largest onshore oil discovery in the United States in 30 years: a find of 1.2 billion barrels beneath Alaska’s North Slope.

“Keep it in the ground” has become a rallying cry for climate and environmental activists in recent years, and they’re particularly intent on stopping Arctic drilling. A study published in Nature in 2015 argues that all Arctic oil needs to stay underground if we’re going to have any hope of keeping global warming below 2 degrees C, the point at which scientists think the shit will really hit the fan.

If there’s anyone still waiting for peak oil to save us from climate change, get over it. People just keep getting better at finding crude. If anything can get us out of this mess, it won’t be a scarcity of fossil fuels but an abundance of creativity. The same innovative capacity that allows humans to keep expanding the amount of oil that can be pumped out of the earth can also create laws to stop the flow and cleaner technologies to use instead.

We better get moving, though, because otherwise this new batch of oil could start flowing in 2021.


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 California, 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.


cut the crap

Even Republicans are nervous about Trump’s budget.

Though the official release is planned for Tuesday, leaked versions of the 2018 budget proposal show dramatic funding cuts for environmental programs — even those supported by the president’s own party.

The budget, which still needs congressional approval, would cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 35 percent. It also slashes funding for cleanup programs like Superfund, but adds cash for water infrastructure.

After submitting an original budget blueprint, the Trump administration faced backlash from Democrats and environmental groups about the drastic cuts. But Republicans are wary of what President Trump might propose, too.

Lisa Murkowski, a Republican senator from Alaska, has said she opposes the elimination of programs like Energy Star and ARPA-E, which funds energy technology research. Both were cut in the draft budget. Republicans have also defended regional water programs that Trump proposed cutting.

Murkowski, along with five other Republican senators, urged Trump to set aside money for the Department of Energy’s research in a May 18 letter. “Governing is about setting priorities, and the federal debt is not the result of Congress overspending on science and energy research each year,” they wrote.


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: