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Stuff that matters

Biophilia

Reuters/Stoyan Nenov

Is Iceland over?

You probably know someone who’s been to the land of Björk and elves (redundant) — if you’re not sure, check the Instagram account of your friend with the most small black-and-white tattoos. The Nordic country has experienced an exponential boom in tourism since 2010.

But has the country crested the cusp of desirability? Below, the evidence that Iceland is hurtling toward a state of abject irrelevance:

  1. “Global warming has raised the average air temperature in the country about 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the past 20 years, and in that time, 200 new insect species have settled in Iceland that could not thrive there before, Mr. Gislason said: ‘If the warming continues, we may find mosquitoes in Iceland in the near future.'” — The New York Times
  2. “I ask him: Are islanders saddened by the puffins’ breeding collapse? ‘Ja,’ he nods, ‘because the puffins is part of the island. He is our . . .’ Juliusson hunts for words, then says slowly, ‘The puffins is the same as you and me.'” — Audubon
  3. “It’s no wonder W’s chic globetrotter Giovanna Battaglia Engelbert elected Iceland for her honeymoon — or that other celebrities, like Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, Justin Bieber (RIP his Instagram), Karlie Kloss, and Beyoncé have all flocked there.” — W Magazine

You decide.


Oil, shmoil

“Hey! We’re totally into clean technology now!” say major oil companies.

If rumors are to be believed, Shell, Total, BP, Eni, Repsol, Saudi Aramco, and Statoil will join forces on Friday to invest in clean technologies.

Anonymous sources told Reuters that the fund will focus on developing technologies to lower oil sector emissions, reduce methane leaks and natural gas flaring, increase car engine and fuel efficiency, and improve carbon capture and storage.

That might sound like sweaty, desperate greenwashing from an industry whose entire business model depends on a) getting themselves some oil and b) selling it. But it also could be motivated by legitimate existential terror. During the oil crisis of the ’70s, for example, Exxon got scared and promptly invented the first rechargeable lithium-ion battery.

The full details of the plan should be formally announced this Friday, but as long as these companies put forward substantial cash and invest it wisely, this is good news.


malheuristic device

REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

The Bundy bros are back at it.

Just six days after their acquittal, the Oregon ranchers who occupied a federal wildlife refuge last winter say there may well be another standoff soon.

“Absolutely! That’s the best thing in the world for [people] to do,” Ryan Bundy told the Washington Post from inside a jail, referring to a reprise of his 41-day armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to protest federal control of, well, federal land.

The younger Bundy — son of Cliven — remains jailed due to a separate armed standoff in 2014, also related to public land. Old habits die hard?

This fresh hint of menace from the Bundys pertains to the Obama administration’s plan to create a national monument at Gold Butte. It would include 350,000 acres of desert that’s home to rare sandstone, ancient petroglyphs, and vulnerable tortoises — that happens to lie just south of the Bundy ranch.

The ranchers’ complaint? An overreach of presidential power, as usual, and valuing tortoises over people. To be fair, tortoises have never laid siege to federal property.


fraud city

Your local farmers market stand might be reselling produce.

GOOD magazine details how the NYC Greenmarket, one of the nation’s strictest farmers markets, cracked down on fraud — leaving us with a sinking realization that most markets lack the resources for such investigations.

It only takes some rustic crates and a friendly face to jazz up some curly kale from a wholesale supermarket. “There are quite a few markets where the majority of items weren’t produced by the vendors,” Michael Hurwitz, director of the Greenmarket network, told GOOD.

Greenmarket fraud inspectors diligently conduct audits and interviews and drop in at vendors’ farms. One farmer was suspended from selling meat after investigators found no trace of cows on his property.

California is taking steps to stamp out farmers market fraud, but most of the country hasn’t caught on. Earlier this year, a Tampa Bay investigation exposed mislabeling at farm-to-table restaurants, too.


coal case

Fossil fuel workers want a piece of the growing renewable market.

The non-profit Iron & Earth, an organization of tar-sands workers focused on incorporating renewable energy into Canada’s energy mix, have released a “Worker’s Climate Plan.”

Their report challenges the persistent narrative, especially prevalent in this year’s U.S. election, that fossil fuel workers prefer politicians revive their struggling industry to helping them prepare for a new economy.

According to the survey, Canadian oil and gas workers are hoping to square themselves at the center of the transition with the help of retraining for green employment. When Iron & Earth asked what worries workers about the growing renewable energy industry, 52 percent said they were worried about the health of the planet, while 32 percent said they were worried about losing their job.

In the U.S., coal industry workers are in a roughly similar stage of grief. Like the Canadian tar sands industry, which is in a slump due to low oil prices, Appalachian coal workers have suffered years of layoffs. As a result, coal workers have flocked to a candidate who claims, incorrectly, he can reverse the industry’s decline.

Politicians across the aisle have proposed retraining programs for workers. It looks like workers are getting behind the idea and putting their bets on renewables.


dakota access

President Obama says the Dakota Access Pipeline could get rerouted.

In an interview with the website NowThisNews, Obama told the host, Versha Sharma, that the Army Corps of Engineers is examining whether the pipeline project can be moved elsewhere.

“As a general rule, my view is that there is a way for us to accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans,” Obama said.

The Obama administration halted construction on a section of the pipeline in early September. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has resisted the proposed pipeline because it would run over sacred burial sites and dangerously close to their water supply.

Dave Archambault II, chair of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, welcomed Obama’s comments. “We applaud President Obama’s commitment to protect our sacred lands, our water, and the water of 17 million others,” he said, in an email statement. Archambault said he believes that the Obama administration “will do the right thing.”

Obama says it will be “several more weeks” before his administration figures out whether the dispute can be resolved in a way “that’s properly attentive to the traditions of the first Americans.”

Read Grist’s previous coverage of the fight over the proposed pipeline.


Outta sight, man

REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Jeff Bezos wants to save the planet by moving industry off it.

The Amazon founder recently spoke about his vision for the future. It differs from fellow billionaire Elon Musk’s vision — but both men agree that our little spinning orb of Earth is not enough.

Bezos, who has founded a space venture called Blue Origin, wants to develop big “cylinders” that would be parked in outer space and serve as home to millions of people — an idea concocted by physicist Gerard O’Neill in the 1970s. The cylinders would also, Bezos says, provide a new home for heavy industry.

“I predict that in the next few hundred years, all heavy industry will move off-planet,” Bezos said. “In space, you get solar power all the time. So there’ll be a lot of advantages to doing heavy manufacturing there, and Earth will end up zoned residential and light industry.”

As for colonizing Mars — Musk’s preferred approach — Bezos is less enthusiastic. “I don’t like the ‘Plan B’ idea that we want to go to space so we have a backup planet,” he said. “We have sent probes to every planet in this solar system, and believe me, this is the best planet. There is no doubt. This is the one that you want to protect.”


taken for a ride — or not

Uber

Uber works great for white male riders.

Non-white or non-male riders, however, may have a harder time. That’s the conclusion of a new study in which researchers had students in Seattle and Boston request rides on specific routes from Uber, Lyft, and taxi-hailing app Flywheel.

Here’s how it works: When you request an Uber, the driver can only see your location and star rating. After that driver accepts, they get your name and picture, too — and may cancel if they don’t like what they see. Researchers zeroed in on cancellations to measure discrimination, says Don MacKenzie, one of the study’s coauthors.

For the Boston study, riders used preset identities with names like Keisha, Rasheed, Allison, and Todd. The male riders who used stereotypically black names saw a cancellation rate of 11.2 percent, compared to the 4.5 percent cancellation rate of those using white names. Female riders using white names had a cancellation rate of 5.4 percent, while female riders with black names experienced a cancellation rate of 8.4 percent, nearly double the cancellation rate for white male riders (MacKenzie points out that difference is not statistically significant).

Finally, women were sometimes subjected to unnecessarily long rides from talkative drivers — resulting in lost time and money for those riders.


Star Wars

Well, at least the Kochs have a sense of humor about being Darth Vader.

For the second year in a row.

Bernie got in on the fun: