Briefly

Stuff that matters


where the sidewalk ends

There’s finally a tool for navigating cities that puts people before cars.

Have you ever found Google Maps leading you, a pedestrian, on the steepest possible route from Point A to Point B? For many of us, it’s an annoyance — but if you’re in a wheelchair or pushing a stroller, that route might have proved impassable.

To address the need for a travel-planning tool based on accessibility and sidewalk conditions, a team at the University of Washington created AccessMap. It uses open-source data to customize routes to an individual’s needs, accounting for obstacles such as steep hills, blocked-off construction zones, and sidewalks without sloped curbs.

There’s a catch, of course: AccessMap is only available in Seattle at the moment. The team has created the OpenSidewalks project to allow people in urban areas to crowdsource real-world conditions for pedestrians — everything from uneven sidewalks to the presence of inadequate street lights.

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War on Facts

This is embarrassing, but there might some climate denial in your school.

New legislative measures in six states seek to challenge science in the very place where it should be the most protected and least politicized: children’s classrooms.

As Vice reports, Oklahoma, Texas, Florida, Alabama, Idaho, and Indiana have all put forward bills that seek to discredit basic concepts like climate change and evolution in school curricula.

The measures include bills requiring teachers to describe established climate science as “controversial” and giving locals the right to object to textbooks they disagree with. These pieces of legislation indicate a shift from the longstanding “creationism deserves a place in the classroom” debate toward climate denial.

This is a pretty chilling follow-up to the news that the Heartland Institute mailed its climate-denial propaganda to thousands of science teachers across the country. If you were wondering why so many people were out March(ing) for Science — in the pouring rain, no less — last weekend, you may have your answer.


Grist 50

Meet the fixer: This teenager gives the youngest generation a voice.

Growing up in the era of smartphones and social media, today’s kids have the world on a handheld screen. Yet they don’t often engage on environmental issues. Why? “We’ve never been told our opinions matter,” says Xiuhtezcatl Martinez (his first name is pronounced Shoe-tez-caht). The refrain he hears from grown-ups: “‘These issues should be left for adults.’”

Martinez, who is half-Aztec, helps organize unified actions like protests and tree plantings for Earth Guardians, a nonprofit that encourages youngsters to stand up for the planet. Martinez rallied youth for the 2014 climate march in New York City and the Native Nations Rise march on Washington this March.

At just 16, Martinez has addressed the United Nations five times and is one of the 21 kids suing the federal government over climate inaction. He has also talked climate on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher and in Teen Vogue, among other media outlets. Makes you wonder what the hell you were doing when you were in high school, huh?

By the time he’s 26, Martinez would like to see a much better world. Ten years isn’t much time, though. This generation has to take action fast. “We’re not just the future,” he says. “We’re also here right now.”


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


well, that escalanted quickly

Trump’s latest executive order will review Bears Ears and other national monuments.

The order, which Trump signed Wednesday, directs the Interior Department to review all national monument designations over 100,000 acres made from 1996 onwards.

That includes between 24 and 40 monuments — notably, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, and Mojave Trails in California.

During the review, the Interior Department can suggest that monuments be resized, revoked, or left alone, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said at a briefing on Tuesday. We can expect a final report this summer that will tell us which monument designations, if any, will be changed.

Environmental groups are already voicing opposition. If designations are removed, it could make it easier to eliminate protections and open land to special interests like fossil fuels.

Zinke, a self-proclaimed conservationist, said, “We can protect areas of cultural and economic importance and even use federal lands for economic development when appropriate — just as Teddy Roosevelt envisioned.”

In between further adulations of his hero, Zinke said that he would undertake the “enormous responsibility” with care. “No one loves our public lands more than I,” he said. “You can love them as much — but you can’t love them more than I do.”


Sashay Away

Coal is giving us blatant hints that it’s on the way out.

And for a government that adores market forces so much, it doesn’t seem to be heeding them very well. Consider the following:

1. In 2016, there were over twice as many American jobs in solar energy production as in coal (373,807 vs. 160,119), the New York Times reported. Note that the coal industry continues to be a relatively large employer in Wyoming, West Virginia, and to a lesser extent North Dakota and Kentucky.

2. But here’s a surprise from Chris Beam, the new president of Appalachian Power — an energy company based in Charleston, West Virginia. “[Gov. Jim Justice] asked me, ‘I’d like you to burn more coal,’” Beam told the Charleston Gazette-Mail. “Well … We’re not going to build any more coal plants. That’s not going to happen.”

Why? Corporations like Amazon and Google that might look to expand energy sourcing to Appalachia have greener preferences. (Beam isn’t the first energy CEO in the region to show interest in renewables.)

3. The EPA just held a session to invite public opinion on which clean air regulations should be cut — ever-conveniently during a Monday morning. The loudest respondents? Fossil fuel lobbyists.

Can we stop trying to make coal happen?


Imperfect storms

That ridiculous heatwave really was caused by climate change.

Which one? Pick any heat wave, according to a new study, and there’s a greater than 80 percent chance that climate change was behind it.

If you have ever been reprimanded by some insufferable pedant (maybe me) for blaming the record-breaking heat on climate change, prepare to receive some validation. The paper, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests you were likely right.

Lead author Noah Diffenbaugh and a team of researchers found that human-caused global warming has nudged up the thermostat on the hottest day, and hottest month, across more than 80 percent of the Earth. They also found we’ve also turned up the volume on the weather, increasing the likelihood of a record dry year in 57 percent of places observed.

Last year, the National Academies published a fat report on attributing extreme weather events to climate change. The report said that, although science can’t deliver an absolute verdict about what caused a specific heatwave or hurricane, it can tell us how much climate change boosted the likelihood or intensity of that event. In other words, science deals in probabilities, not absolute certainties. But as the science improves, with papers like this latest one, those probabilities get higher and higher.


grist 50

Meet the fixer: This scientist brings social justice to her field.

Growing up in New York, Cynthia Malone had clear goals. “I had this vision of becoming the next Jane Goodall — the black Jane Goodall,” she says. She earned a master’s degree in conservation biology from Columbia University studying oil palm expansion and conflicts between humans and wildlife. Her fieldwork took her to the Solomon Islands, Indonesia, and Cameroon.

While working toward her degree, Black Lives Matter protests and viral videos of police brutality gripped the country. So she got involved. Malone began working with Columbia’s graduate students of color and Black Youth Project 100, a youth-led organization that coordinates direct action and political education. She also cofounded the Diversity Committee at the Society for Conservation Biology. Her goal there is to make human diversity in the sciences as important as biological diversity.

Malone is headed into a Ph.D. at University of Toronto studying neocolonialism and who gets a seat at the table in conservation decisions. She’s also building a network of environmental scholars of color and activists to “think through what a decolonized conservation science would look like.” In other words: create a new, more equitable vision for the future of science.


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