Briefly

Stuff that matters


Energy Star Wars

Trump’s budget would get rid of Energy Star.

The government labeling program for energy-efficient appliances and consumer products is on the chopping block as the president tries to slash spending so he can steer $54 billion more a year to the military.

About 18,000 companies and other organizations are Energy Star partners, voluntarily putting the label on their products that meet efficiency guidelines. That helps consumers identify products that use less energy and thus cost them less to run, and it helps companies market those products.

Since Energy Star’s founding in 1992, the program has been highly successful. It has saved people about $430 billion on their energy bills, the program reports, while operating with a reported budget of only about $50 million per year. It has also kept 2.7 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere. And it has about 85 percent brand recognition.

But before Energy Star could be ended or handed over to a nongovernmental entity, Congress would have to sign off, and it might not be inclined to. The program has bipartisan and industry support. “I can’t imagine honestly that the manufacturers won’t fight very, very hard to keep this program in place,” Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, told the Washington Post.


Grist 50

Meet the fixer: This advocate connects green Latinos.

Ten years ago, Mark Magaña was a D.C. lobbyist, when the Bipartisan Policy Center hired him to rally Latino support for an ill-fated bill to limit corporate carbon emissions. As Magaña soon found, there was no network to tap. Even within green groups in Washington, most Latino environmentalists didn’t know each other.

“The more I got into it, the more I saw the individuals in D.C. were very isolated,” Magaña says. “If I went to a green reception, maybe I’d be the only Latino in the room. Maybe there’d be one other, but I wouldn’t know them.”

In response, Magaña founded GreenLatinos, a national network of Latino environmental advocates that connects grassroots efforts with power and money in Washington. So far, the group has convinced the Environmental Protection Agency to close several contaminating landfills in Puerto Rico and brought attention to the Standing Rock pipeline protests in the Spanish-language media.

Diversity is the future of the environmental movement, Magaña says. “Now it’s investment time, investing in the communities,” he says. “They will be the environmentalists of the future.”


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


That Makes Sense

Saturday’s marches show that a whole lot of people DO care about using sound science to make policy!

Hundreds of thousands of protesters turned out in 600-plus cities across the world this Earth Day (on every continent but Antarctica) to March for Science. Although numbers are still coming in, attendance estimates include some 40,000(!) marchers in Chicago and 12,000 in London.

The Trump administration’s disregard for basic facts provided the impetus for many (but not all) to take to the streets, with organizers saying “science is under attack.” Some common concerns included White House efforts to abolish environmental protection, cut federal funding for research, and erase references to climate science from government websites, among other outrages. (Grist keeps track here.)

President Trump made no direct reference to the protests (not even on Twitter!), but he issued an Earth Day address in which he claimed: “My administration is committed to advancing scientific research that leads to a better understanding of our environment and of environmental risks … We should remember that rigorous science depends not on ideology, but on a spirit of honest inquiry and robust debate.”

Trump went on to tweet the following:

To which one might respond: Without a livable climate and planet, there’s not much hope of economic growth.

Missed the march? Here are some of our favorite snapshots (and see more from our Climate Desk partners):

A week from now, there’s an opportunity to do it all over again. Need tips and motivation for protesting like a pro? Find them in Ask Umbra’s 21-Day Apathy Detox.


Indescribable feeling

We just hit 410 ppm of CO2. Welcome to a whole new world.

This is not normal: We’re on track to witness a climate unseen in 50 million years by mid-century.

In pre-industrial times, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere stood at 280 parts per million. And that number has been rising ever since, warming the planet by 1.8 degrees F (1 degree C) along the way.

CO2 levels fluctuate with the seasons, climbing a bit higher each spring. We first hit 400 parts per million back in 2013, and that became the new norm just four years later. And on April 18 this year, as predicted, we crossed the 410 ppm threshold for the first time at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii.

Climate Central

While El Niño and other natural factors have sped up CO2 concentration increases in the past two years, fossil fuel emissions are the major driver, according to Climate Central.

As fictional carb-thief Aladdin once said: “Unbelievable sights/Indescribable feeling/Soaring, tumbling, freewheeling/Through an endless diamond sky.”

He was talking about the feeling you get when thinking about carbon concentration levels, right? Because that’s how WE feel! Just kidding, we feel terrified.


weekend plans

Are you going to the March for Science? Let us know.

Oh no — you forgot about Earth Day again. Every year. Every year this happens! Luckily, someone else made plans for you, so you don’t have to cobble together a last-minute vegan brunch or fern-planting party or something.

There are Marches for Science going on quite literally all over the world. Even at Coachella! Kendall, this is your big chance!

The point of showing up is to prove that a critical mass of people are upset (to put it mildly) that our political administration willfully ignores the collective advice of scientists around the world. The advice being: Can you just stop extracting fossil fuels to prevent the demise of the human race, please, no seriously, we’ve been over this a thousand times.

Anyway — now that you’re going, send us your photos, and we’ll share them on Grist’s Twitter. Just @ us.

And here’s some good reading for the bus ride to the march: Andrew Jewett in the Atlantic explains what needs to be done beyond marching for science. (Hint: It involves addressing the social structures that dictate how scientific policies are applied.)

Stay tuned to our Apathy Detox to learn why showing up to protests actually matters.


Grist 50

Meet the fixer: This entrepreneur helps the solar industry compete.

Behind the business of energy production, there are a lot of numbers. Usage data is essential to solar companies who are trying to figure out how to work in a given region — but it’s often hidden away in the outmoded databases of individual utility companies who aren’t in the business of accessible data storage.

Less than a year after kicking off her clean-energy career as a low-level analyst at PG&E, Elena Lucas decided she wanted to tackle that problem head-on. She cofounded the Bay area–startup UtilityAPI in 2014.

UtilityAPI wrangles the data and delivers to the companies who need it — and in doing so, it has brought the cost of installing solar panels down by 5 to 10 percent.

Lucas is also working to to make her company — and tech culture at large — more welcoming to women. Nearly half of UtilityAPI’s employees are women, most in executive positions. “I think it’s really different than a lot of other companies in the Bay Area,” Lucas says, “and I’m so proud of that.”


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


Green light special

Walmart just pledged to eliminate a billion tons of greenhouse gas.

That’s as much as Germany’s yearly emissions.

It’s hardly the first example of a business charging ahead on climate change mitigation while governments dither. Pretty much every giant corporation has made a commitment to reduce its emissions: food titan Unilever, everything maker General Electric, and IKEA (where you get your OMLOPPs), and on and on.

But what Walmart does matters. The company is such a behemoth that its policy changes trigger transformation around the globe. Walmart is the 10th largest economic entity in the world, after Canada, so this effort, dubbed “Project Gigaton,” is akin to every Canadian signing on to a strict sustainability plan.

Most of Walmart’s environmental footprint comes from other businesses extracting raw materials to manufacture Walmart’s products. So it will be pushing its suppliers to clean up their act, aiming to slash a gigaton of greenhouse gas emissions from its supply chain.

The Environmental Defense Fund has been working with Walmart to cut its emissions for years, and so there’s a track record here. In 2010, Walmart pledged to cut 28 million metric tons (like removing 6 million cars from the road), then surpassed that goal in five years. Now, they’re aiming to meet a goal 35 times larger, by 2030.