It’s that time of year again! Time for holiday cheer, good dark beer, and spending all your freakin’ money getting laptop-friendly bath trays rush-delivered to your house.
The off-putting thought of me writing this newsletter from the tub is in service of an actual, serious point: The holidays are coming, and with them the temptation to get a whole bunch of shit sent directly to your doorstep. Look — it’s tough to be a cool-gift-giving dad while maintaining complete ownership over your soul.
Got kids who are growing out of the artisanal toys you so love giving them? Don’t worry, someone will hand-deliver AirPods by this time tomorrow! Is Whole Foods suddenly sold out of organic, free-range, antibiotic-free, vegetarian turkeys? Buy one online, and it’ll fly your way faster than the live thing could! Simply wish you could spend the chilly months doing work from the comfort of your bathtub? Order in the next 3 hours and 47 minutes, and your problem will be solved by Tuesday!
They make it so easy, and so fast, you can almost forget that getting a work-friendly bath accessory from an overseas warehouse into your bathroom has some serious implications for the climate. But those implications are pretty tough to brush off: If shipping were a country, it’d be the sixth-largest producer of CO2 emissions in the world (sorry, Germany). And as we push to get cheaper stuff quicker, the climate impacts get scarier.
This edition of Shift Happens is dedicated to the smart people who are working to fix that problem: from the engineers designing wind-powered cargo ships, to the innovators who are helping clean up the current fleet, to the retailers who are “opting out” of the holiday shopping frenzy (or at least a small part of it). Read to the end, and we’ve even got an idea for how you can get in on the fixings yourself.
As always, let me know if you’ve got thoughts on the Shift Happens newsletter, and please pass it on to your friends
— Chip, Grist Founder
1. Your new hero
International shipping regulators have pledged to cut the industry’s carbon emissions in half by mid-century. But how will we even know if the pollution drops? More than 94,000 merchant vessels now ply the world’s waterways, writes Maria Gallucci in our latest Fix feature, which explores the future of shipping. “No one knows what fuel they’re getting, or where they’re getting it from,” Deanna MacDonald, cofounder and CEO of Blockchain Labs for Open Collaboration, told Gallucci last winter.
Thanks to the thinking that brought you Bitcoin, however, MacDonald’s company is making it easier to track fuel use: Blockchain, basically just a digitized list of transactions made to legitimize cryptocurrencies, works pretty well as a method for crowdsourcing data on where fuels come from, helping to verify fuel sources and filter out bad actors.
MacDonald’s outfit hopes that verification will lead to more adoption of cleaner fuels by giving shipping companies a way to earn carbon credits. As new technologies such as spinning rotary sails and hydrogen fuel cells come online, the technology can help track them, too.
“There is a shift upon us,” MacDonald said. Hey — it happens.
2. Your reading list
All this shipping is our own doing, of course, as we hoover up gadgets, gizmos, and garments — stuff that we’ll eventually have to get rid of. But where does it all go, when we send it to the recycler or Goodwill? (No, I’m not about to tell you how to get your old sweater back.) Author Adam Minter explores this afterlife in his new book, Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale.
Some of the book is the bummer you’d expect, or worse. But Secondhand details some brighter stories, too: Mexican traders at the U.S.-Mexico border who sell low-cost used goods in “one of North America’s most environmentally sustainable businesses,” for example, or tech companies that make products durable enough to be sold secondhand.
Minter also sees concrete ways for the secondhand economy to get a lot better. The book introduces those methods, alongside “a surprising world where what’s old becomes new again, over and over, and the desire to profit from castoffs creates innovation and livelihoods — all over the world at all hours of the day.”
3. Your pick-me-up
- WIND UP: Some technological revolutions require, well, new technology. Others simply require that we remember how we did things before. That’s the premise of Slate’s podcast, “The Secret History of the Future.” Listen to this episode on how the future of wind-powered ships is rooted in the past.
- CARBON-CYCLE: Wouldn’t it be great if we could take all of the excess CO2 that’s cooking the planet and turn it into something useful? That’s the idea behind carbon capture and utilization. This explainer, one in a series, written by former Grister David Roberts, dives into the technologies we have for turning CO2 into other, more useful, things.
- CULT OF YOUTH: 30 under 30? Please. Teen Vogue recently released its 21 under 21 list, a compilation of young women, femmes, and non-binary people working to change the world. It’s no surprise, given Gen-Z’s moxie, but a bunch of them are climate activists — from Youth Climate Strike founder Isra Hirsi to Spirit of the United Nations honoree Xiye Bastida.
- WHEN DO WE WANT IT?: Last week, a healthy serving of Democratic presidential hopefuls, including Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Tom Steyer, gathered in South Carolina for the first-ever Presidential Forum on Environmental Justice. Grist was a media partner for the event, which means our reporters were there live-tweeting up a storm — check out #ejpresforum on Twitter for a glimpse at the action, or watch the whole video.
- WHEN IN ROME: Italy is leading the charge on climate change education: Earlier this month, the education minister announced that public school students of every grade will be required to learn about climate change and sustainability. I’ll *chef’s kiss* to that.
4. Your next move
- BE SOCIAL: Does your group chat fall silent when you bring up climate change? Grist has a Facebook group for you. Join “All Talk and Climate Action” for some great conversation with other concerned folks about how climate change is affecting you — and what you can do about the problem, too.
- BE PATIENT: Yes, I called out the holiday season in particular — but overnight shipping has huge climate costs all year long. Commit to reducing your share of those costs by planning ahead and picking longer shipping times whenever possible. (It’s usually possible.)
- BE HELPFUL: There are plenty of ways to spend Black Friday: gorging on leftovers (my personal favorite), shoving other shoppers aside as you lunge for the last TV, or, as REI has urged in its pledge to keep its stores shuttered to the day’s frenzied shoppers, “opting outside.” Create or sign up for a clean-up event near you.
5. Your Sunday plans
Make Tim Ma’s Impossible Chili!
Feeling chilly? This vegan recipe from Chef Tim Ma, a 2019 Grist 50 Fixer, incorporates two pounds of Impossible Burger, one of the latest plant-based beef dupes to hit grocery store shelves. If you’re not in Southern California or one of the East Coast states where Impossible Burger is sold, Beyond Meat or another beef substitute will work just as well (although it might not bleed, if you’re into that sort of thing).
2 lbs Impossible meat
½ cup canola oil
½ lb cranberry beans (soaked overnight)
1 cup shallots, chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
½ cup celery, chopped
¼ cup garlic, minced
2 jalapeños, chopped
½ cup tomato paste
2 cups white wine
1 quart vegetable broth
3 cups canned tomatoes
2 tbsp smoked paprika
2 tbsp chili powder
2 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp herbs de provence
1 tbsp cayenne
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp sugar
Kosher salt to taste
2 tbsp arrowroot starch
8 tbsp cold water
- Put cranberry beans in a high-sided stockpot and cover with about 2 inches of water. Add a few aromatics like bay leaves, thyme, garlic, and parsley stems. Bring to a boil and simmer until cooked — soft, but with a little bite.
- In a second, wide stockpot on high heat, add oil, and then add Impossible meat, breaking it up and sautéing until browned and cooked through — about 4 minutes.
- Add shallots, carrots, celery, garlic, jalapeños, and tomato paste, and cook for about 3 minutes.
- Add white wine, stirring frequently, until liquid is almost all gone.
- Add vegetable broth and tomatoes, then spices, and let simmer on medium-low heat for about an hour, adding more broth if reduced.
- Add cranberry beans.
- Make slurry by combining water and starch and stir until it makes a paste. Add paste to hot chili and stir until thickened and emulsified.
And Step 9 — Gather together your family or some of your best pals, and dig right in. What better gift is there than a low-carbon meal delivered straight from your kitchen? (Aw.)