Briefly

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Trump administration’s energy plans just faced another loss.

On Monday, a federal appeals court ruled against the Environmental Protection Agency’s postponement of a rule to regulate methane from oil and gas wells.

The EPA said its May deferral was designed to give industry more time to comment on the regulation. Environmental groups including the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund sued the EPA after the agency’s delay. Judges sided with environmentalists and said “industry groups had ample opportunity to comment,” adding that some of those comments had been incorporated into the final rule.

The Obama-era regulation would cut pollution of methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than CO2, from new oil and gas wells. At the time, industry and several states — including Oklahoma under then-Attorney General Scott Pruitt — said the rule placed undue burden on oil and gas producers.

After the decision, the agency says it’s assessing its options, but the ruling comes as another strike against Trump’s attempted attacks on Obama’s environmental legacy.

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hurry up!

Can we still avoid the worst climate change? Maybe.

A new study in Nature Geoscience shook the climate science world by suggesting that we may have more leeway in the fight to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees C.

The researchers found that IPCC models were overestimating how much warming has already occurred. That means we may actually have a chance of not blazing past the 1.5 degrees C goal and well into the 2 degrees C danger zone — which is where it has previously looked like we were headed.

Of course, the results are so new — and so drastic — that many are skeptical they will stick. For one thing, the new analysis focuses on a period of time when temperatures were relatively cool, a fact that most other scientists have chalked up to natural, temporary factors.

And even if the new study’s numbers play out, it will still be very hard to limit greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as we need to. Still, “very, very difficult” is better than “impossible” and 1.5 degrees C is much better than 2 degrees C.

And as Justin Gillis of the New York Times pointed out recently, the real uncertainty is not in our models, but in ourselves.


Mommy dearest

‘Mother!’ is a climate change parable, and it sounds terrifying.

No movie this year has generated more intrigue than director Darren Aronofsky’s horror flick mother!, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem.

While many have teased out the biblical themes in the controversial film, there’s another story you might miss in this symbolism-heavy nightmare. Aronofsky and Lawrence explained the film’s climate change connection to the New York Times. (Warning: spoilers ahead.)

“Mother!” is about Mother Earth (Ms. Lawrence) and God (Mr. Bardem), whose poetic hit has the weight of the Old Testament: hence all the visitors clamoring for a piece of Him, as his character is called. The house represents our planet … The movie is about climate change, and humanity’s role in environmental destruction.

Sound weird? Heck yeah. Critics have characterized mother! as a “tour de force of choreographed insanity” that thrives on the “horror of confusion.”

And to point out one further similarity with climate change: Just like watching the damage climate change is wreaking on the planet unfold, watching mother! leaves us uneasy and outraged at what we’re witnessing.


not a drill

Mexico City was built on land that’s prone to severe earthquake damage.

Less than two weeks after the second-biggest earthquake in Mexico’s history, a second quake hit, causing more than 200 deaths and toppling buildings around the country.

The 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck Tuesday afternoon just a few hours after Mexico City held earthquake drills to mark the anniversary of the country’s deadliest shock in 1985.

“It’s very horrendous,” Guillermo Lozano, humanitarian and emergency affairs director for World Vision Mexico, told the L.A. Times. “Most of the people were at work and children were at school.”

The soft soil underneath Mexico City tends to amplify the damage from quakes. The megalopolis is built on ancient lakebed filled with wet clay deposits that experts compare to jello. When seismic waves pass through, the lakebed jiggles, causing even more violent shaking aboveground.

Seismologists say it’s unlikely that Tuesday’s quake is related to the 8.1-magnitude one that shook the country Sept. 8, since they struck hundreds of miles apart and occurred weeks, not minutes, apart.

It’s been a hectic month for North America, from hurricanes to wildfires. But unlike intense superstorms, at least earthquake devastation is one thing we can’t blame ourselves for, right?

Well, it’s more complicated than you might think.


environmental injustice

Trump’s policies put the most vulnerable Americans in danger.

A new report from the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative, a group of academics and nonprofit professionals, finds that over the past eight months, the new president has amplified risks to the country’s environmentally disadvantaged people and torn down some hard-won protections.

“Through proposed budget cuts and personnel reductions at agencies like EPA,” the report reads, “the new administration has crippled the government’s ability to address environmental problems, including inequalities in toxic exposure.”

President Trump has undone decades of progress on environmental justice. He allowed construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline to resume, reversed a planned ban on the agricultural pesticide chlorpyrifos (despite its link to neurological disorders in children), and proposed slashing funds for toxic Superfund site cleanup. Perhaps most alarming, the administration has obscured public data. For example, it has failed to maintain the Toxics Release Inventory that informs communities of nearby exposure risks.

Hurricane Harvey, the reports’ authors note, offers a glimpse into the increased burden that poor communities will experience from climate change — effects that Trump’s actions will likely magnify.

“In a moment that calls for a greater awareness of the intersection of environment and inequality,” they wrote, “the policies and priorities of Trump’s administration are especially disheartening.”


wheels of misfortune

Houston was built for cars. What happens when Harvey destroys 250,000 vehicles?

Three weeks after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas with the worst rainfall event in U.S. history, many low-income residents are still stuck at home, unable to afford a replacement vehicle and get back to work.

More than 90,000 of the 250,000 damaged cars were either uninsured or not covered by flood protections, according to estimates from the Insurance Council of Texas.

For folks living paycheck to paycheck — who may have also lost furniture, clothes, and rental housing in addition to vehicles — earning the money needed to replace those losses presents a challenge.

Prior to the hurricane, 94.4 percent of households in the Houston area owned cars, making it second only to Dallas in vehicle ownership. While people in the city center can commute by bus or bike, it’s much harder for residents in the city’s sprawling suburbs, living far from bus lines, to get into town without their own wheels.

“I don’t have nothing to do,” one construction worker in northeast Houston told the Texas Tribune. “I don’t have work. I don’t have a car.”


food chain reaction

World hunger rises after decades of decline.

The number of hungry people in the world grew to 815 million in 2016. That’s up by 38 million from the previous year, according to a new report from the United Nations.

Researchers pinpoint a rise in conflict and climate change–related shocks as the major drivers. And they’re related: Spikes in heat are linked with spikes in violence. Extreme drought and war caused famine in South Sudan for several months this year, and conflict-affected countries like Somalia, Yemen, and northeast Nigeria are currently at risk of famine, the U.N. reports.

As the climate becomes less stable, the world faces many food security challenges. Climate-related disasters — more frequent and more intense droughts, floods, and storms — can destroy crops and homes. Meanwhile, climate change has begun to affect crop yields and decrease the nutritive benefits of many plants.

And yet, the growing availability of high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods complicates this picture of global hunger. As Western food companies expand to poorer countries, they introduce junk food to more people. In a New York Times investigation of Nestle’s impact on obesity and malnutrition in Brazil, the authors point out a sobering fact: “Across the world, more people are now obese than underweight.”

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