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on dangerous ground

A year later, we still don’t know who killed indigenous activist Berta Cáceres.

In 2015, she won the Goldman Environmental Prize for leading the indigenous Lenca people in a campaign to stop a hydroelectric dam project on their land in Honduras. And on March 2, 2016, she was shot dead in her home.

In the months following her death, Honduran authorities arrested six men with connections to the military and the dam project. Two others were arrested early this year. But many of Cáceres’ fellow activists believe the real mastermind remains at large.

Recently leaked documents suggest Cáceres’ murder was an unauthorized hit planned by Honduras’ U.S.-trained special forces. The Guardian notes that the U.S. is also Honduras’ primary supplier of military support, approving $18 million in aid last year.

Cáceres’ death, though a high-profile tragedy, has done little to stop blood from being spilled in Honduras: It remains the deadliest country for environmental activists.

But local grassroots activists still feel her presence acutely. They say her death has made their resistance stronger. As her nephew Silvio Carrillo told CNN, “Berta didn’t die, she multiplied.”


Grist 50

Meet the fixer: This innovator is stitching together a clothing movement.

When Rebecca Burgess was working in villages across Asia, she saw the impacts of the clothing industry firsthand: waste, pollution, widespread health problems. But in these same communities, from Indonesia to Thailand, Burgess also saw working models of local textile production systems that didn’t harm anyone. She was inspired to build a sustainable clothing system — complete with natural dye farms, renewable energy-powered mills, and compostable clothes — back home in the United States.

The result is Fibershed, a movement to build networks of farmers, ranchers, designers, ecologists, sewers, dyers, and spinners in 54 communities around the world, mostly in North America. They are ex-coal miners growing hemp in Appalachia and workers in California’s first wool mill. In five years, Burgess plans to build complete soil-to-soil fiber systems in north-central California, south-central Colorado, and eastern Kentucky.

People have asked her, “This has already left to go overseas — you’re bringing it back? Are you sure?” She is. Mills provide solid, well-paying jobs for people “who can walk in off the street and be trained in six months,” Burgess says. “This is all about dressing human beings at the end of the day, in the most ethical way that we can, while providing jobs for our home communities and keeping farmers and ranchers on the land.”


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


as the world burns

Trump’s environmental executive order is everything we feared.

A senior White House official confirmed that President Trump will start rolling back key Obama-era climate policies on Tuesday. The executive order is aimed at sweeping away the Clean Power Plan, methane regulations, mining restrictions on federal land, and, well, you name it.

The White House will direct government agencies to root out “all rules, all policies, and guidance documents that serve as obstacles or impediments to domestic energy production,” according to the official who spoke on background during a conference call with reporters Monday evening.

“Energy independence,” said the official. “That’s the goal.” (For the record, the United States is already pretty independent, importing about 11 percent of its energy.)

The official also told reporters that the administration was still debating whether to remain party to the Paris climate agreement.

As details started to leak out after the conference call, environmental organizations were up in arms. The World Resources Institute called the impending order a “sledgehammer to U.S. climate action.”

When a reporter asked about green groups threatening to sue, the administration seemed unfazed. “I’m sure they’ll disagree, but what’s your point?” the official said. “When it comes to dealing with climate change, we want to take our own course and do it in our own form and fashion.”

If there’s a silver lining here (and hey, it’s thin), it’s that the administration admits there’s such a thing as “dealing with climate change.”


Deregulators, mount up!

That long-promised executive order rolling back Obama’s environmental regulations is on its way.

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt told This Week’s George Stephanopoulos on Sunday that President Trump will sign the “pro-growth and pro-environment” directive on Tuesday.

The action, Pruitt explained, would put people back to work in the fossil fuel industry, breathing new life into a sector he said Barack Obama marked for death. Stephanopoulos offered a reality check: The U.S. has roughly the same number of coal jobs it did a decade ago. Furthermore, the country won’t be able to live up to its Paris agreement commitments without aggressive actions like the Clean Power Plan, which the order would nix.

Undaunted, Pruitt insisted environmental progress would continue. “We’re actually at pre-1994 levels right now with respect to our CO2 footprint,” he noted. “Now why is that? Largely it’s because of innovation and technology both in the coal sector and the natural gas sector.”

Pruitt may falsely think carbon dioxide is not a primary contributor to climate change, but he is right about one thing: The EPA’s latest emissions analysis shows the U.S. discharged 39 million metric tons fewer in 2015 than it did in 1994. With climate deniers running the government, we’ll see how long that lasts.


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?