Stuff that matters


Did the EPA borrow its latest PR strategy from my teenage self?

In 11th grade, I had an inane habit of staying up very late IMing my stoner boyfriend and/or stalking boys who were cuter than him on Myspace. As a result, I essentially never woke up on time for school — which, in my defense, started at 7:45 a.m. — but I REFUSED to acknowledge my role in that in any way.

“I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY THIS KEEPS HAPPENING,” I would moan at every tardiness slip. I understood extremely well why this kept happening.

According to a Huffington Post report by Alexander Kaufman, the EPA is taking a very similar approach to its communications on climate change. On Tuesday evening, the agency’s Office of Public Affairs sent around an internal set of talking points.

To sum up: The EPA is dealin’ with climate change! But it sure doesn’t know why it’s happenin’!

Consider some of the OPA-provided points:

  • Human activity impacts our changing climate in some manner. The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact, and what to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue.
  • While there has been extensive research and a host of published reports on climate change, clear gaps remain including our understanding of the role of human activity and what we can do about it.

Replace “human activity” with “staying up until 1 a.m. on the internet” and “changing climate” or “climate change” with “always being late to school,” and my point stands.

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denial and error

Scott Pruitt’s week has been a real March Against Science.

The EPA chief met with forest industry leaders in Georgia on Monday and announced that in the eyes of the EPA, burning biomass — like trees — is now carbon neutral. At least when “used for energy production at stationary sources.” Science suggests otherwise.

Trees are renewable in the sense that you can burn them and grow more. Some science suggests that as a burned forest regrows, it might even suck up the carbon dioxide that a blaze releases.

But “renewable” doesn’t always mean “clean” or “carbon neutral.” Burning wood can actually release more carbon dioxide than burning coal, as Climate Central’s John Upton writes. And think about it: Wood goes up in flames quickly, while regrowing a forest could maybe take a hundred years — leaving that carbon dioxide in the air an awfully long time.

Pruitt’s anti-science rhetoric continued on Tuesday with the announcement of a new rule that would prevent the EPA policymakers from using scientific studies unless the raw data behind them is made public. That same day, Pruitt attended a meeting where climate deniers — but no reporters — were invited. He posed for a photo with Marc Morano, climate misinformation extraordinaire.

The rest of the week may be rough for the EPA chief. He’s got two congressional hearing scheduled for Thursday, and he’s expected to get grilled on ethics.

Yes oui can!

The French president gave America the climate change speech that Trump never will.

After a painfully awkward visit to the White House, Macron addressed Congress and emphasized the need to work together to safeguard the future of our planet.

“I believe in building a better future for our children, which requires offering them a planet that is still habitable in 25 years,” he says.

Macron is confident that “one day” the U.S. will recommit to the Paris climate agreement. After all, as he says in the address, “there is no Planet B.”

Sadly, Macron will return to his home of butter croissants and leave us here with a president who once said climate change was created by the Chinese. C’est la vie!

tried and protested

Activists head to court after shutting down pipelines. Their defense? Climate change.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled on Monday that four anti-pipeline activists facing criminal charges have a legit case to argue the “necessity defense” in court. In 2016, two of them turned off valves for Enbridge oil pipelines that transport Canadian oil to the U.S.

The so-called “valve turners” will argue that climate change is such a daunting threat that taking illegal action — like trespassing — is necessary when there’s no other recourse. Sometimes, the logic goes, it may be more dangerous to follow the law than to disobey it.

The judge approved the valve turners’ request last year to invoke the necessity defense, but the prosecution fought back and appealed. That appeal was just dismissed. Next up, science will take the stand: Climate scientists and other experts will testify about the serious threat posed by global warming.

The necessity defense has worked for climate activists before. Last month, a Massachusetts judge ruled that 13 protesters were not responsible for civil disobedience after they were arrested for sitting in holes dug for a pipeline to block construction.

steak a claim

France declares that ‘vegan bacon’ is not a thing.

For decades, France has been fighting a fruitless battle to ban English loan words from the mother tongue. Now the country has turned its obsession with language purity to vegan products.

The parliament approved a ban last week on borrowing terminology from animal products to market foods not made of animals, like “vegetarian sausage” — apparently because they confuse shoppers into thinking that soy milk, for instance, is really milk milk.

“It is important to combat false claims,” tweeted National Assembly member Jean Baptiste-Moreau, who proposed the ban, in French. “Our products must be designated correctly: the terms of #cheese or #steak will be reserved for products of animal origin.”

Wait, meat-eaters have been accidentally buying vegan steak? If so, that would be a tiny win for climate-change action. Eating a plant-based diet is one of the most effective steps you can take to shrink your individual carbon footprint.

Moreau was inspired by a European Court of Justice ruling in 2017 that said soy and tofu products couldn’t be sold as milk or butter. European meat producers have been lobbying to ban animal-based terms from vegetarian meat alternatives for years.

They’ve got reason to be concerned. Germany is the world’s leader in cooking up new vegan food products, and France isn’t far behind. If companies refuse to comply with France’s new rule, they could be fined up to €300,000 ($370,000).

it's always sunny in florida

Say hello to more solar panels, Sunshine State homeowners!

Up until Friday, Floridians couldn’t lease solar equipment. But that’s no longer the case! State regulators voted unanimously to authorize Sunrun, a San Francisco-based company and one of the nation’s biggest residential solar providers, to begin leasing equipment in the state.

The cost of installing panels has been a major impediment to the spread of solar in Florida. But, as part of the Florida Public Service Commission decision, Sunrun will require zero money up front from customers who have just begun renting panels. Now, households can lease panels for 20 years for a fixed amount instead of buying them outright.

Florida was recently called out for particularly bad solar policies in a report from the Center for Biological Diversity. This is a big step towards alleviating that, so rise and shine, Florida! 

off balance

At least one Sinclair station has been trying to cast doubt on climate science.

Suri Crowe worked as a senior reporter at a local TV news station owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group for three years. She allegedly got the boot in part because of her reporting on climate change, Buzzfeed News reports.

In October 2015, Crowe reported a segment on climate change for WSET-TV in Lynchburg, Virginia. She says she was ordered by management to include Donald Trump’s opinion on the matter to bring “balance” to the story. Crowe defended the mountains of scientific evidence pointing to human-induced climate change and was reprimanded for it in her performance review the following year.

“The management team felt the story was one-sided — indicating that human activity is to blame for global warming — period,” the station’s former news director, Len Stevens, wrote to Buzzfeed News. When Crowe’s contract with Sinclair ended last year, it was not renewed.

Like many of us who saw the creepy viral video of Sinclair’s “must-run” clips with local news anchors repeating rhetoric closely resembling President Trump’s messaging, Crowe is shaken up.

“I believe the ire at me was politically tainted,” says Crowe. “We really have to fight for journalism — it’s worth the fight.” Sinclair is on the precipice of taking over Tribune media, an acquisition that could bring the media giant to 72 percent of American homes.

bad logic

Someone please tell Scott Pruitt that air pollution leads to more deaths than fuel efficiency standards.

The EPA administrator’s latest ploy to justify regulatory rollbacks: ignore mountains of scientific evidence and tell the public that efforts to protect our health are bad for us. (Well, maybe this strategy is not exactly new.)

This time, Pruitt is saying that fuel economy standards are actually killing people. His argument is twofold: First, he contends that the rules force automakers to build lighter vehicles, which don’t hold up well in car accidents and could increase fatalities. Simulated crash testing does not support this Koch-backed theory, according to the California Air Resources Board.

Second, Pruitt says that higher fuel efficiency standards could drive up prices and discourage people from buying newer, safer vehicle models.

Why go to such great lengths to bring back dirtier cars and trucks? The Los Angeles Times reports that the Trump administration is building up a case to revoke California’s ability to set higher mileage standards than federal law, a provision included in the Clean Air Act.

Because it’s such a huge market, California influences worldwide auto standards. A State of the Global Air report recently found that air pollution led to 1 in 9 deaths worldwide and contributed to more than 6 million deaths in 2016. That’s well over four times the number of people who die in car accidents globally each year.

Plus, the American Lung Association’s State of the Air report released this week found that more than 40 percent of Americans live in counties with unhealthy levels of air pollution.

grist 50

These 5 Midwesterners are giving their communities a makeover.

While East and West coast states are busy suing Big Oil and divesting massive retirement pensions, people in the middle of the country are also working on long-term solutions for their communities — with a little less fanfare.

We interviewed some of them for the Grist 50 2018, our list of rising stars drawing up solutions to humanity’s biggest challenges.

  • Nebraskan Melissa Freelend decided it was time to bring renewables into her state’s energy mix, so she got herself elected to the board of directors of the biggest energy provider in the state.
  • Juliana Pino escaped civil war in Colombia when she was just a kid. Now, she’s working to change discriminatory laws and fight for environmental justice in Illinois.
  • In Chicago, police ticket bicyclists in African-American and Latino neighborhoods twice as often as in white neighborhoods. Olatunji Oboi Reed, a dedicated bike rider, is working to ensure that people can get around town without facing discrimination or racial profiling from police.
  • Milwaukee has a lot of empty lots. It also has a sewage overflow problem. Justin Hegarty has a plan for both: He’s replacing vacant, concrete lots with gardens — green sponges that divert water from sewers.
  • Devita Davison is using her evangelist background to advocate for homegrown businesses in Detroit. Her nonprofit, FoodLab Detroit, assisted 320 small businesses last year.

Looking for more fixers? We’ve got ’em.

Resign of the times

Scott Pruitt’s got 99 problems but Trump ain’t one.

Congressional Democrats have been keeping an eye on the embattled EPA administrator, and they aren’t happy with what they’ve seen. On Wednesday, New Mexico Senator Tom Udall and Florida Representative Kathy Castor introduced a resolution to kick Pruitt out.

It was signed by 131 representatives and 39 senators — the most senators to call for the removal of a cabinet official in U.S. history. If you need any inspiration for insults, the press release about the resolution has plenty. Udall called him “the emperor of the swamp.” Castor said: “There is a slime problem at the EPA — and it is coming from the administrator’s office.”

Pruitt’s pileup of scandals ranges from wasteful spending (private flights) to ethical transgressions (sidelining officials who question him). That’s not to mention the damage his policies pose to public health. He faces a total of nine investigations from Congress, the White House, and his own agency. One investigation concluded this week that Pruitt broke the law in buying a $43,000 soundproof phone booth.

The call to boot Pruitt lacks bipartisan support, as Lisa Friedman writes, so it probably won’t have the desired effect. Some Republicans have turned against Pruitt, including John Kelly, the White House chief of staff. Most prominent Republicans, including President Trump, reportedly stand behind him — for now.