Briefly

Stuff that matters


A Grist PSA

We’ve got all the debate questions on humanity’s most urgent crisis in one scorching video.

Scientists can already predict that 2016 will be the hottest year on record. Once-in-a-lifetime superstorms are becoming commonplace occurrences. And a climate change–fighting pact signed last year by almost all the world’s nations was just ratified.

So we at Grist assembled footage of all the important questions asked about the climate crisis during this year’s presidential debates.

We can assure you, it won’t take much of your time.


Money Makes The World Go Round

California scientists are calling for the largest U.S. investment in climate research in years.

The sunny state’s been defying the Trump administration’s, er, lax approach to climate action by leading the way on their own since before the inauguration. Now, a cohort of scientists in the state are proposing plans for a climate research institute. It would focus on projects combating the effects of climate change in the U.S.

Upside: With Trump’s consistently dismissive approach to climate policy, California’s initiative would fill an increasingly wide gap in research on climate solutions.

Downside: It’s expensive, of course. While advocates of the institution are considering the state’s cap-and-trade revenue as a source of funding for the institute, the deets on the rest of that cash are still in the works.

While the proposal for the institute will need to clear California legislature, it’s off to a somewhat promising start. Governor Jerry Brown has reportedly given the initiative an informal thumbs-up, and the institute has the support of nearly all of the state’s academic institutions.


Off the hook

Court says pipelines — not Exxon — are to blame for a major oil spill.

ExxonMobil’s Pegasus Pipeline poured more than 200,000 gallons of heavy crude into a neighborhood in Mayflower, Arkansas, in 2013. Twenty-two homes had to be evacuated, and in the aftermath, hundreds of residents complained of nausea, nosebleeds, and respiratory problems.

In 2015, the EPA fined Exxon more than $4 million in penalties over the spill. Separately, a federal pipeline regulator accused the company of violating safety standards and imposed an additional $2 million in fines.

Exxon disputed those punitive damages, arguing that it met legal obligations. On Monday, an appeals court overturned a majority of the violations and fines. According to its decision: “The unfortunate fact of the matter is that, despite adherence to safety guidelines and regulations, oil spills still do occur.”

Exxon, however, was aware of issues with this particular pipeline prior to the Mayflower incident, and an argument can be made that it should have done a better job of planning for an accident. The pipeline was 70 years old at the time of the spill, and Exxon knew it was prone to cracking along its seams. (Pegasus had split open or leaked nearly a dozen times before.)

But you know what they say, “Pipelines will be pipelines.”


Yikes

The world’s largest volcanic region was just discovered in Antarctica.

That’s all kinds of scary. If there’s one place on Earth that would be the worst possible spot for a giant volcanic chain, it’s beneath West Antarctica. Turns out, it’s not a great situation to have a bunch of volcanoes underneath a huge ice sheet.

In a discovery announced earlier this week, a team of researchers discovered dozens of them across a 2,200-mile swath of the frozen continent. Antarctica, if you’re listening, please stop scaring us.

The study that led to the discovery was conceived of by an undergraduate student at the University of Edinburgh, Max Van Wyk de Vries. With a team of researchers, he used radar to look under the ice for evidence of cone-shaped mountains that had disturbed the ice around them. They found 91 previously unknown volcanoes. “We were amazed,” Robert Bingham, one of the study’s authors, told the Guardian.

The worry is that, as in Iceland and Alaska, two regions of active volcanism that were ice-covered until relatively recently, a warming climate could help these Antarctic volcanoes spring to life soon. In a worst-case scenario, the melting ice could release pressure on the volcanoes and trigger eruptions, further destabilizing the ice sheet.

“The big question is: how active are these volcanoes? That is something we need to determine as quickly as possible,” Bingham said.


Will they or won’t they?

The European Union is considering an electric car mandate.

After the United Kingdom and France joined the Netherlands and Norway in putting an end date on the sales of fossil fuel–powered cars, the E.U. may set wide-reaching requirements for electric vehicles.

Per reports from Climate Home, the E.U. governing body is mulling an electric and hybrid car quota for automakers by 2030. Though such a proposal would fit with the E.U.’s overall pro-climate stance, it may or may not happen, according to contradictory accounts that have emerged over the past few weeks. The most recent report suggests a proposal is likely.

“They have made it very clear that it is their intention to go to a zero-emissions mandate,” an unnamed source with knowledge of internal E.U. talks told Climate Home. “The car industry has been told to stop complaining about it and start being constructive.”

Policy aside, recent economic forecasts suggest that electric vehicles may account for more than half of global car sales by 2040. Several European companies, including Volvo, are taking the hint. Even scandal-embattled Volkswagen unveiled four new electric cars in April.


it's a bird, it's a plane — it's solarman!

Wind and solar energy are literally (that’s a literal ‘literally’) saving lives.

The increasing presence of wind and solar in the United States helped prevent the premature deaths of up to 12,700 people between 2007 and 2015, according to a new study from Nature Energy.

How’s that? Well, with the rise of clean energy, there’s a reduced risk of exposure to harmful emissions from fossil fuel–burning power plants, like the class of sooty airborne particulate known as PM2.5 (which has been found to damage lungs).

But wind and solar can’t take all the credit — increased regulations and shifting markets helped, too. The study authors report that sulphur dioxide emissions fell from almost 10 million tons in 2007 to 2.7 million tons in 2015 after coal plants were required to complete retrofits to meet air-quality standards.

So that’s one more piece of evidence that wind and solar really do save the day.


flood zone

Trump wants to ignore the effects of climate change when permitting infrastructure projects.

President Trump signed an executive order Tuesday that he said will streamline the environmental review required to get large public construction efforts — like roads, bridges, and buildings — off the ground.

From the gilded lobby of Trump Tower, the president proclaimed that the executive order would repair our “badly broken” process for garnering permits for infrastructure projects.

The policy sets a goal of two years for finishing a permitting process and assigns a lead government agency to helm each approval. The order also rescinds an Obama-era requirement that government-funded buildings take into account likely sea-level rise in design and construction. (States and other local agencies, however, will still be able to establish stricter permitting practices.)

Updating America’s “crumbling infrastructure” became a central tenet of Trump’s presidential campaign — and he promised billions to the effort. Trump called the current permitting process a “massive, self-inflicted wound on our country.”

“It’s disgraceful,” the president said.

The White House argues the order will bring “accountability and discipline” back to the permitting process. But many environmentalists decry it as an obvious attempt to skirt environmental rules — and cite it as further evidence of Trump’s anti-climate change agenda.