Briefly

Stuff that matters


Dakota Access

Native Americans marched on Washington for their rights — civil, treaty, and human.

Led in part by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Native Nations Rise march was the latest mobilization in the years-long battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Braving a slurry of wet snow, thousands of indigenous people and their allies marched from Union Station to the White House. They made one notable detour to the Trump International Hotel, where they erected a tipi and Native women led a ceremonial round dance.

The march was the culmination of four days of demonstration in the nation’s capital, where tribes have gathered to pray, workshop, and rally for indigenous rights in America. The Sioux say their treaty rights were violated when the U.S. government neglected to consult with them while considering whether to approve the pipeline, a major argument in the tribe’s current lawsuit against it.

Somewhere along the route, 16-year-old indigenous climate activist, hip-hop activist, and all-around rock star Xiuhtezcatl Martinez performed songs he wrote about the #NoDAPL fight. In his own words: “But you will not break me / Anything less than grace will not shake me, break free / I call my drop to the frontline / Kill the black snake, bring an end to the pipelines.”

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get the memo?

EPA employees eagerly leak documents from their mandatory anti-leaking class.

This week, workers at the federal agency attended a one-hour training course on how to prevent leaks to the press.

In response, they disclosed memos and slideshows from the course to multiple outlets, including The Hill, Reuters, and the Associated Press. Politico received a leaked memo about the class before it even took place.

The training was part of a wider White House crackdown on leaks across federal agencies. Though most EPA staff don’t handle classified files, agency officials wanted to prevent workers from sharing what they called “controlled unclassified information,” citing national security concerns.

Numerous leaks have come out of the EPA this year, beginning with the Trump team’s plan for the agency back in January. Since then, the media has obtained government reports on climate science, Trump’s proposed budget cuts for the agency, and more.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions warned last month that anyone who leaked sensitive government information would be investigated and potentially prosecuted.

And yet, here we are. “It’s ironic that we have an anti-leaking story that is rooted from a leaked memo,” EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox told the Hill.


peak avocado

Here’s how the avocado-toast bubble will burst.

Avocado prices are shooting through the stratosphere. They’re so expensive that a real-estate mogul in Australia has blamed city-dwellers’ struggles with high housing costs on the millennial love affair with avocado toast. Avocados are about as trendy as a fruit can get (witness the avocado bar in Brooklyn).

Demand is high (the average American now eats seven pounds of avocados a year) and supply is low. A trend toward drier climate in growing regions, and Trumpian trade wars could make avocados still more precious. But there’s hope in form of basic economics.

Agricultural economist Marc Bellemare points out that when prices skyrocket farmers plant more avocado trees. It takes three years after planting for trees to produce fruit. During this lag time, prices keep climbing, and other farmers will decide to get in on the game. When the new orchards start pumping out avocados, prices could slump.

So help is on the way. In a few years, you still won’t be able to afford rent in a trendy part of town, but maybe your avocado smoothie will be cheaper.


hold the phone (and dial it)

Not enough states are taking climate action. Time to make some calls!

It’s Climate Week in New York!!! A host of CEOs and government officials — including Washington Governor Jay Inslee, New York’s Andrew Cuomo, and California’s Jerry Brown — have descended on New York City to discuss what the United States can do to compensate for the federal lack of action on climate change.

The U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition of businesses and 14 states plus Puerto Rico, is still on track to make important reductions in keeping with the Paris Agreement. However, despite major commitments from states such as California and New York, it looks like we aren’t going to meet the national reductions promised by the agreement, reports Bloomberg News.

The U.S. is on track to reduce emissions by 15–19 percent by 2025. The goal was 26–28 percent.

But it’s not too late for more states to join in on the fun! Pennsylvania is the third-largest emitter of CO2 in the national energy sector, so I called Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania to ask him if he’d sign on to the U.S. Climate Alliance. He said, “OF COURSE! Why didn’t you ask before?”

No! Actually, he’s kind of touchy about climate action. But I did leave a message with his aide, just to confirm that you can do it, too. Call your governor.


green markets

Climate solutions need cold, hard cash. This group aims to make those investments easier.

“If you just look at the energy sector, we need about a trillion a year,” Barbara Buchner says about the gap between between our climate goals and the amount of investment in developing solutions.

To spur those needed investments, Buchner’s group, The Lab, just launched a new crop of projects aimed at making it easier for investors to put money into green investments. Projects include partnerships between hydropower operators and land conservation and restoration efforts and “climate smart” cattle ranching initiatives in Brazil, as well as more esoteric exploits in private equity and cleantech development.

There are three main barriers that keep investors away from innovative projects, Buchner says: lack of knowledge of new projects, perception of higher risk, and an unwillingness to go in alone on unproven projects.

Breaking down these barriers is important because that climate investment gap can’t be closed by government spending alone.

“It’s the backbone, it’s the engine behind overall climate finance,” Buchner says of these early, targeted projects by governments and non-governmental organizations. “But the private sector [investors] really are the ones that make the difference.”


maria

Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico with record-breaking rains.

The most powerful hurricane to hit the island in nearly a century brought ravaging winds and rainfall on Wednesday, destroying homes, knocking out all of the power, and snapping concrete poles in half. Maria wrecked many repairs that had just been completed after Irma swiped at Puerto Rico two weeks ago.

The National Hurricane Center reports that the island could receive an additional 4–8 inches of rain through Saturday. Puerto Rico remains under a watch for life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.

Grist contributing writer Eric Holthaus pointed out some surprising stats regarding Maria’s rainfall on Twitter:

  • In one day, parts of Puerto Rico received 24–36 inches of rain. Compare that to Houston, which received 32 inches in three days during Harvey.
  • In Caguas, a city in the mountains of eastern Puerto Rico, rain gauges measured more than 14 inches in one hour — apparently a candidate for a new world record.
  • For reference, Caguas got more rain in a single day (nearly 40 inches) than Seattle does in an average year (37 inches).

After Puerto Rico, Maria headed toward the Dominican Republic, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the Southeast Bahamas — bringing debilitating rain with it.


hurry up!

Can we still avoid the worst of climate change? Maybe.

A new study in Nature Geoscience shook the climate science world by suggesting that we may have more leeway in the fight to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees C.

The researchers found that IPCC models were overestimating how much warming has already occurred. That means we may actually have a chance of not blazing past the 1.5 degrees C goal and well into the 2 degrees C danger zone — which is where it has previously looked like we were headed.

Of course, the results are so new — and so drastic — that many are skeptical they will stick. For one thing, the new analysis focuses on a period of time when temperatures were relatively cool, a fact that most other scientists have chalked up to natural, temporary factors.

And even if the new study’s numbers play out, it will still be very hard to limit greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as we need to. Still, “very, very difficult” is better than “impossible” and 1.5 degrees C is much better than 2 degrees C.

And as Justin Gillis of the New York Times pointed out recently, the real uncertainty is not in our models, but in ourselves.

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