Briefly

Stuff that matters


It takes poo to tango

A new car from Toyota runs on a very renewable resource: human waste.

Yes, you read that right: The Toyota Mirai is powered by hydrogen fuel, which can be made from poop.

The process, as Quartz reports, is surprisingly simple. Toyota is using a wastewater processing plant in Fukuoka, Japan, to separate sewage into liquids and solids, and the solid waste is mixed with microorganisms that break it down, creating biogas. After that, carbon dioxide is filtered out, water vapor is added, more CO2 is extracted, and what you’re left with is pure hydrogen — a clean, efficient fuel that doesn’t emit greenhouse gases.

While this may seem space-aged, it’s actually old technology. Marc Melaina of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory told Quartz, “In India, they have loads of biogas plants in villages and such that are just part of their energy infrastructure.”

But poo-to-hydrogen technology is not widely available in the U.S. In fact, hydrogen fuel from any source is not widely available. There are only 29 hydrogen fueling stations in the entire country, and most are in California. If you don’t live in L.A. or San Francisco, you’re shit out of luck — at least for now. But that could change: The U.S. has plenty of crap that could be put to use.


Grist 50

Meet the fixer: This CEO provides clean energy for any budget.

You might think solar panels are just for people with money to burn. John Bourne disagrees. “There are a number of clean energy options out there for everybody,” he says. “Our job is to help find the right one for the right person.”

Bourne used to work for solar companies that would develop products and ask stores to carry those products exclusively, even if they weren’t the best fit for everyone. So he started BrightCurrent to represent a bunch of different brands instead. The company partners with big retailers — Sam’s Club, Comcast, Sears — and provides behind-the-scenes services like running call centers and training retail associates, all to help match customers with the right clean energy and efficiency products, from smart thermostats to LEDs.

More than 30,000 people have bought clean energy products through BrightCurrent since the company launched in 2015. “We’re just getting started,” Bourne says. “We really want to be in every state in the country.”


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


amazing

Keystone XL is approved. Apply now for 35 permanent pipeline jobs.

As expected, President Donald Trump signed a permit for the pipeline’s construction on Friday, though a few roadblocks remain in its path.

The State Department estimates the Keystone XL would provide 42,000 direct and indirect jobs — a number that might be inflated — and only 3,900 of those would be full-time construction positions. The thing is, they’re nearly all temporary, lasting long enough to get Keystone XL built. Once operational, the pipeline would employ just 35 people, according to the estimate.

Those numbers fall a bit short of what a certain reality TV star predicted in 2013:

Keystone XL would carry dirty tar sands oil from Canada to the United States, running over the Ogallala Aquifer and close to more than a dozen tribal lands. That puts a lot of drinking water at risk. As pipelines age, they typically aren’t properly maintained (after all, only 35 permanent employees are doing the work). Sooner or later, they’re sure to leak.

“It’s going to be an incredible pipeline,” Trump said on Friday morning. “Greatest technology known to man or woman. And frankly, we’re very proud of it.”


Spoiler Alert

A fun fact you didn’t know: Koalas don’t drink water, but now they have to.

Just like you tell yourself that you get all the hydration your body needs from beer (you don’t), koalas usually get all the water they need from eating eucalyptus leaves. But that’s changing, now that those leaves are slowly drying out.

It’s your worst friend — climate change!

Researchers at the University of Sydney in Australia have set up drinking stations (dubbed “Blinky Drinkers”) to observe whether the marsupials are drawn to them. And sure enough, their study has shown that populations benefit from supplemental water — which is a new development for koalas.

Footage showed koalas staying an average of ten minutes at drinking stations. But this data was from last winter, and the data from summer — December to February Down Under — has yet to be analyzed. Keep in mind that summer sun in Gunnedah, the “koala capital of the world,” can ratchet temperatures up to 120 degrees F.

If koalas need to start drinking water, they’ll likely run into significant problems as many of their habitats don’t have sitting water sources. Perhaps Australian elf queen Cate Blanchett could donate some face mists to their cause?


Grist 50: Member Pick

Meet the fixer: This clothing expert revives dead threads.

If you’re a typical American, you probably throw away too many clothes. But the companies behind those clothes have their own disposal problem, too. When a coat has a busted zipper or a truckload of dresses doesn’t sell, customers and retailers return the items — and those returns often end up in a landfill, contributing to the 14 million tons of textiles Americans toss out each year.

If Nicole Bassett has her way, that’s going to change. Bassett cofounded the Renewal Workshop, a tiny company with a giant goal: create a circular economy for the apparel industry (in other words, find a way to reuse perfectly good stuff).

A native of British Columbia who has worked on sustainability initiatives at companies like Patagonia and prAna, Bassett has secured a factory, five partner brands, and a hardy staff of eight. Her startup cleans and fixes clothes that have been returned to partners, then sells the like-new items on the Renewal Workshop website. Some companies have similar programs for their own products, but the Renewal Workshop is “trying to find a solution that works for the whole industry,” says Bassett.

With her outfit growing quickly, she wears every hat — with one exception. “You do not want me fixing a product,” she says with a laugh. “As soon as it involves a sewing machine, I run away.”


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


The Leaden State

The lead poisoning of Flint’s children pales in comparison to rates found in parts of California.

In one Fresno zip code, 13.6 percent of children under the age of 6 have elevated levels of lead in their blood, according to a Reuters report, nearly three times higher than the percentage in Flint during its water crisis.

Close to 30 Golden State neighborhoods were found to have higher rates of childhood lead poisoning than Flint, according to 2012 blood testing data from the California Department of Public Health — and that data covered only about a quarter of California’s zip codes. Statewide, about 2 percent of kids have levels at or over the federal standard, according to the data.

Bill Quirk, a Democratic state assemblyman from the Bay Area, introduced a bill last week to ensure all California children are screened for lead poisoning. “It’s a widespread problem and we have to get a better idea of where the sources of exposure are,” he said.

Lead exposure often comes from peeling house paint or contaminated soil or water. Children with lead poisoning are at risk of developing a host of cognitive disorders.

A Reuters investigation from late last year uncovered nearly 3,000 U.S. locales with higher lead-poisoning rates than Flint, making that preventable disaster just the tip of an alarming iceberg.


Sad!

Major TV networks spent just 50 minutes on climate change — combined — last year.

That’s a dramatic, 66-percent drop in coverage from 2015 across evening and Sunday news programs airing on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox, according to a new study from Media Matters. ABC, for one, spent just six minutes on climate issues in 2016.

Media Matters

The networks can’t claim there was a shortage of important climate stories to cover. Hurricane Matthew, the Great Barrier Reef’s continued slow death, record-shattering heat, and the official beginning of the Paris climate deal all took place last year.

Interestingly, the coverage drop doesn’t seem to be an election-year phenomenon. In fact, climate coverage increased by 43 percent during the previous election cycle, between 2011 and 2012.

Media Matters

Other insights from the study:

  • Together, the networks aired five segments of climate science denial from Trump and his team — without rebuttal.
  • No network covered climate change’s impact on national security or the economy.
  • And none of them aired a single segment on the effect a Trump or Clinton presidency would have on the climate — until after the election.

Great to know that TV news is taking the defining issue of our time so seriously.