Briefly

Stuff that matters


Wily coyote

Urban hunters are pretty delighted by the coyote takeover.

Coyotes very rarely attack humans, but they’re still super scary. Get within earshot of a pack of coyotes at night, and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Those quavering howls, punctuated by crazed laughter. Spooky.

Gray wolves are supposed to keep coyotes in check, but wolf populations in the United States have dwindled because of hunting and habitat loss. As a result, coyotes have started to migrate into suburbs and cities in search of new territory. The highly adaptable mammals have even settled down in densely populated places like Chicago and Los Angeles.

Coyote colonization has sparked an urban hunting movement, according to a New York Times article published Tuesday. Hunters are capitalizing on the influx of coyotes, selling furs for around $100 a pop. That fur is used to line jackets and trim hoods for popular brands like Canada Goose.

Conservationists say coyotes are actually a net positive, since they rid cities of feral cats. Plus, they eat rats and trash! Coyotes are generally harmless and tend to stay out of the way during daylight hours, hiding in nooks and crannies. So maybe living among these cunning furry friends isn’t so bad after all.


risky business

Climate change hits businesses where it hurts: their wallets.

Climate change and extreme weather topped the World Economic Forum’s annual list of risks facing businesses.

Out of 10 major threats to business in 2018, climate-related risks took slots 1 (extreme weather events), 2 (natural disasters), 5 (failure of climate change mitigation), and 7 (human-made environmental disasters) — outranking issues like terrorism, number 8. The forum ordered the risks by asking experts and companies to assess the likelihood of each risk.

In one vast, terrifying web, the report shows that environmental changes are linked to societal risks. Biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse, for example, are linked to the spread of infectious diseases and food crises.

That’s the part of the report the authors seem to be most concerned about: the interconnectedness of all of these issues. “When risk cascades through a complex system, the danger is not of incremental damage but of ‘runaway collapse,'” the report says. Scared yet?


Cash Rules Everything

Business interests are winning out over science under Trump.

A new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists details how science advisory committees have gone by the wayside in the first year of Trump’s presidency.

Federal science advisory committees met fewer times in 2017 than in any year since the government started tracking them in 1997. Fewer experts serve on these committees at the Department of Energy, Department of Commerce, and the EPA than at any time in the past 20 years.

Some related news: In an interview with CBS correspondent Major Garrett, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said he wants to “partner” with industry. When asked whether his philosophy was to protect the environment or protect business, Pruitt responded, “Well, it’s neither.” That’s coming from the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, folks.

Meanwhile, a photographer for the Department of Energy alleges he was fired for taking this photo of Secretary Rick Perry in a warm embrace with coal baron Robert E. Murray.

“Federal agencies are supposed to consider the evidence when they’re making policy decisions that impact all of us,” Genna Reed, lead author of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ report, said in a statement. “We can’t afford to let these policies be based purely on politics or lobbying by powerful industries.”


hot mesh

DIY internet is helping remote communities track local climate changes.

The town of Rigolet, in remote Newfoundland, has its own app — it’s called eNuk.

The app collects reports and photos from users. Among other things, it tracks the climate conditions that can make travel on thinning sea ice highways and hunting paths dangerous for residents. (The Arctic is warming at an alarming rate, and disappearing sea ice imperils traditional knowledge and lifestyles.)

But the app doesn’t work very well without internet, and that is a slow and sparse commodity in Rigolet, as Motherboard reports. That’s why Vancouver-based company RightMesh is rigging up an alternative.

It uses something called “mesh networking,” a decentralized way to extend internet access into far-flung regions by turning every receiver (your computer or smartphone) into a transmitter (connecting to other computers). Put enough devices together in one place and, voilà, you have a mini-internet.

RightMesh has other bells and whistles — blockchain! broadband trading! — but basically it’s getting the internet to places where big ISPs haven’t gotten much foothold. And that makes it a lot easier to share information in uncertain times.


bad news travels fast

Lots of popular climate change articles aren’t totally credible, scientists say.

Some of these articles are sensationalized very nearly to the point of inaccuracy. Others are cases of “elaborate misinformation.”

A review from Climate Feedback, a group of scientists who survey climate change news to determine whether it’s scientifically sound, looked at the 25 most-shared stories last year that focused on the science of climate change or global warming.

Of those, only 11 were rated as credible, meaning they contained no major inaccuracies. Five were considered borderline inaccurate. The remaining nine, including New York Magazine’s viral “The Uninhabitable Earth,” were found to have low or very low credibility. However, even the top-rated articles were noted as somewhat misleading. (Read the reviews here.) 

“We see a lot of inaccurate stories,” Emmanuel Vincent, a research scientist at the University of California and the founder of Climate Feedback, told Grist. Each scientist at Climate Feedback holds a Ph.D. and has recently published articles in peer-reviewed journals.

Vincent says that the New York Times and Washington Post are the two main sources that Climate Feedback has found “consistently publish information that is accurate and influential.” (He notes that Grist’s “Ice Apocalypse” by Eric Holthaus also made the credibility cut.)

“You need to find the line between being catchy and interesting without overstepping what the science can support,” he says.


quitting time

Most members of the National Park Service Advisory Board got so frustrated they quit.

On Tuesday, 10 out of 12 advisory board members resigned, leaving the board crippled.

“We understand the complexity of transition but our requests to engage have been ignored and the matters on which we wanted to brief the new Department team are clearly not part of its agenda,” former Alaska Governor Tony Knowles wrote in a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Monday.

Zinke didn’t meet with the committee at all last year. The advisory board, which was established to help him designate historic or natural landmarks, has technically been suspended since May 2017.

In 1935, Congress chartered the advisory board to help the National Park Service preserve American heritage. Now, board members are worried that the Trump administration has set that original mission aside indefinitely. “I hope that future actions of the Department of Interior demonstrate that this is not the case,” board member Carolyn Hessler Radelet wrote in a separate resignation letter on Wednesday.

But Zinke’s recent decisions, like disbanding the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council and the Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science, indicate that expert input is pretty low on his list of priorities.


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.