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Dead Heat

Hot summers make for a bloody Chicago

summerchicago
Seth Anderson

The Fourth of July weekend is widely recognized as a nice little oasis in the middle of the summer for Americans to reflect on their love of country through explosions, grilled meats, and beer (not necessarily in that order.) By contrast, this year's holiday in Chicago was commemorated by 82 shootings, including more than a dozen murders. Yesterday, the murder count for the city hit the 200 mark.

In a city so infamously beset by violence that it's earned the nickname Chiraq, the general trend has been that murders become more frequent in warmer weather. In 2012, there were 500 murders in Chicago, and many attributed the jaw-dropping figure -- the highest in the country -- to an unseasonably warm spring and unbearably hot summer. It wasn't hyperbole: I was there, and I didn't fully comprehend the meaning of "stifling heat" until July 2012.

Read more: Cities, Living, Politics

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Wanna see a magic trick?

Environmental free-trade deal could help tar-sands producers

environmental goods
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Negotiations began Tuesday at the World Trade Organization on a free-trade agreement that would free "environmental goods" from the shackles of tariffs and other protectionist measures. Such measures have been put in place around the world to protect domestic manufacturing industries and jobs from cheaper imports. They can increase the price of the products compared with, say, if they were all made in Vietnamese sweatshops.

The WTO talks in Geneva are a big deal -- they involve the United States, China, the European Union, and 11 other countries. They could affect $1 trillion worth of trade every year.

So why aren't environmentalists shouting, "Hallelujah?"

Because it's a ruse.

"These negotiations are less about protecting the environment than they are about expanding free trade," Ilana Solomon, director of the Sierra Club's Responsible Trade Program, told Grist. "Of course we support the increased use of, and trade in, environmentally beneficial products. But we have really serious concerns about the approach that the World Trade Organization is taking."

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Will gas get a free pass?

Oil companies try to weasel out of California’s cap-and-trade program

tailpipe emissions
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Like climate change, California's cap-and-trade program is an evolving and growing beast. Since its official launch last year, power plants, cement producers, glass manufacturers, and some other heavy industries operating in the Golden State have been required to reduce carbon emissions and pay for the privilege of polluting the atmosphere with heat-trapping gases. In January of 2015, the program is due to expand to affect suppliers of natural gas and motor fuels, helping to further slow global warming and raise billions more dollars for climate and environmental programs.

But, whoa, hold up there, you crazy Left Coasters. Including gasoline in the program would slightly raise gas prices and provide financial support for alternatives, such as electric-vehicle charging stations and solar panels. And that's the last thing Big Oil and its pals want.

ClimateWire reports that oil companies and big business groups have been pushing state lawmakers to exempt gasoline from the cap-and-trade program, pointing out that Californian motorists would be burdened with increased prices at gas pumps. And it seems that some lawmakers have been listening carefully. Last week, Assemblymember Henry Perea (D) amended legislation in such a way as to exempt motor fuels from the program for an additional three years.

"The cap-and-trade system should not be used to raise billions of dollars in new state funds at the expense of consumers who are struggling to get back on their feet after the recession," Perea said in a press release.

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Will the U.S. keep spending taxpayer money on dirty coal plants abroad?

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Congress could get in the way of Obama's efforts to clean up power plants -- not just here at home, but abroad.

A year ago, when President Obama unveiled his Climate Action Plan, he declared that the U.S. would stop funding most coal projects in other countries. “I’m calling for an end to public financing for new coal plants overseas unless they deploy carbon-capture technologies, or there’s no other viable way for the poorest countries to generate electricity,” Obama said in his big climate speech. In December, the U.S. Export-Import Bank, which helps American firms access markets abroad, changed its lending guidelines to conform with Obama’s edict.

But now pro-coal members of Congress are moving to block the new guidelines. The Hill reports:

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Why Tom Steyer is not a hypocrite

Tom Steyer
Shutterstock / Debby Wong

Here’s a clue for newspaper reporters: If the loudest people criticizing an environmental activist for not being pure enough are fossil fuel–loving Republicans, that’s a sign it’s not a legitimate criticism.

Consider, for example, The New York Timestakedown of Tom Steyer from Saturday. The Times solemnly informs us that when Steyer ran the Farallon Capital hedge fund, it invested in fossil fuels, including substantial investments in building coal-burning facilities abroad. Steyer resigned from Farallon in 2012, founded NextGen Climate to support activism on climate change in 2013, and just recently completed his personal divestment from fossil fuels. But, the Times reports, some of those coal plants built partly with Steyer’s former firm's money will keep spewing CO2 for decades. The Times writes:

Over the past 15 years, Mr. Steyer’s fund, Farallon Capital Management, has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into companies that operate coal mines and coal-fired power plants from Indonesia to China, records and interviews show. The expected life span of those facilities, some of which may run through 2030, could cloud Mr. Steyer’s image as an environmental savior and the credibility of his clean-energy message, which has won him access to the highest levels of American government.

Note the passive construction: Farallon’s past investments “could cloud Mr. Steyer’s image,” the Times notes, as if it weren't the Times itself doing the clouding. But cloud it among whom? The article admits that several leading environmentalists don’t hold Steyer’s past work against him. Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and Grist board member, points out that seeing the error of one’s ways and divesting is exactly what they want capitalists to do. You can’t say that only people who have never participated in the dirty energy economy can help clean up the environment. If you did, you couldn’t work with any energy utilities on greening their portfolios, or raise money from any hedge-fund multimillionaires.

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Is the Anthropocene a world of hope or a world of hurt?

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Ben Mabbett

Is it possible that a world swarming with humanity, warmed by our fumes, and depleted by our carelessness could in any way be good?

Last year, some 30 people, including the ethicist Clive Hamilton and the journalist Andrew Revkin, attended a seminar in Washington, D.C., on the Anthropocene -- a term denoting a new geologic epoch, dominated by human influence. Hamilton noticed that some of the participants seemed optimistic, even excited, about the advent of the Anthropocene. "I was astonished and irritated that some people who were scientifically literate were imposing this barrier of wishful thinking between the science and future outcomes for humanity," he said. Hamilton had just written a book, Requiem for a Species, arguing that people squirm away from the bleak reality of climate change.

Months later, Revkin sent this video of a talk he'd given to the people who had attended that seminar. It was entitled "Seeking a Good Anthropocene," and Hamilton -- seeing this idea that he objected so strongly reprised -- decided to write a rebuttal (actually two).

This debate has been brewing for years, and each side tends to caricature the other's position. Suggest there's a reason for hope and you are called a delusional techno-utopian; if you say there's an imperative for humility, you are framed as an anti-technological doomer.

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The Civil Rights Act at 50: Protecting people of color and the environment, too

rosa parks

This week marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act, which made segregation unlawful and ushered stronger constitutional protections for people of color. There are still people who think that social justice and environmental issues are totally separate things, but as I’ve argued before, they’re not — and the Civil Rights Act is a case in point. The climate justice and environment worlds have benefited much from this law, particularly Title VI, which protects people of color from discrimination in any program or activity that receives federal funding.

While Title VI has been a somewhat suboptimal civil rights guardian in the environmental realm, it has had some successes in keeping people of color from suffering disproportionate pollution burdens -- and in ensuring equal access to public transportation. Some of these successes were discussed this week in the webinar "Transportation Equity: A 21st Century Civil Rights Issue,” which was hosted by a coalition of civil rights groups called the Transportation Equity Caucus.

Three presenters each provided examples of how precisely transportation policy meets at the nexus of civil rights and environmental protection. After all, the original 20th century battles leading to the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 were over rail and labor (check the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters) and buses (check the Montgomery Bus Boycott). Civil rights advocates still rely on the law to address transit inequities, and not just in the post-Jim-Crow South.

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Put a label on it

GMO labeling initiative heads to the ballot in Oregon

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Steve Rhodes

More than enough Oregon voters have given their signatures to get a GMO-food labeling initiative on the ballot in November, according to the Center for Food Safety.

Three New England states -- Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont -- have all succeeded in passing labeling bills through their legislatures in the past year, but in the rest of the country, legislative efforts as well as ballot initiatives have so far failed.

California was the first state on the West Coast to try a ballot initiative, in 2012. Food and seed companies spent tons of money advertising against it and it failed. Then Washington tried a ballot initiative in 2013. Food and seed companies spent tons of money advertising against it and it failed. Now, to complete the coastline, Oregon is cuing up its own ballot initiative.

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Fighting dirty

Congressional candidates compete over who is most pro–fossil fuel

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Politico has helpfully provided a roundup of Senate and House races in which environment and energy issues are a major factor. If you click on the video expecting to find that climate change is finally moving voters, you’re going to be disappointed. In all four races -- the Louisiana, Kentucky, and Colorado Senate races and a West Virginia House race -- the Democratic and Republican candidates are arguing over who is more supportive of fossil fuels.

The only partial exception is Colorado: Democrat Sen. Mark Udall supports the state’s large natural gas sector -- though his Republican opponent Rep. Cory Gardner claims he isn’t supportive enough -- but Udall also calls for climate action. That’s because Colorado has a different political terrain than the others -- it's purple, not pure red. Colorado is much richer than Kentucky or West Virginia, has a more diversified economy, and has a lot of liberal voters who came for the high quality of life.

In Kentucky and West Virginia, coal is king and the candidates are competing over who will more faithfully serve its narrow interests. In Louisiana, the same model applies, but with oil and gas instead of coal.

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Gay rights activists ally with greens in the climate fight

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Ben Evans

They're here, they're queer, and they're ready to roll up their sleeves and fight the good fight against climate change. Queers for the Climate is a new activist group focused on "saving the straights" (and the planet) from imminent environmental ruin.

How? By applying some of their own smart strategies that helped win over half the country in the battle for LGBT marriage equality and civil rights.

We sat down with Joseph Huff-Hannon, one the founders of Queers for the Climate, to talk about why we need to save the straights, and how the climate justice movement can take a page out of LGBT community activism.