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Have what it takes to be a Grist fellow? Don’t miss the application deadline!

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Listen up, procrastinators: You have a few days left to apply for Grist’s fall 2017 fellowship. The application deadline is Monday, July 31, 2017.

If you’re just now hearing about the fellowship, here’s the gist: We’re looking for early-career journalists to come work with us for six months and get paid. This time around, we’re looking for all-stars in two areas: environmental justice and video. You’ll find a full program description and application requirements here.

Our dynamic duo of current fellows just keeps raising the bar for excellence. Senior fellow Emma Foehringer Merchant reports on a shuttered army base in West Oakland that’s the source of a controversial redevelopment project. (Emma’s story is the second installment of our ongoing Extreme Community Makeover series.) And video fellow Vishakha Darbha tells the story of East Chicago, Indiana, which has been called “the next Flint” due to widespread lead contamination. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: We ❤️ our fellows.

So what are you waiting for? Oh, right, the last possible minute. As long as we receive your application by 11:59 p.m. PT on July 31, no judgment here.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Have what it takes to be a Grist fellow? Don’t miss the application deadline! on Jul 24, 2017.

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See how today’s Arctic melting compares to the ’80s

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Arctic sea ice has been melting at a steady clip this summer as it heads toward its annual low point. But a new chart shows that with nearly two months still left in the melt season, sea ice area is already below what would have been a yearly low in the 1980s.

The comparison shows the clear long-term decline of Arctic sea ice fueled by the global rise in heat-trapping greenhouse gases. The dramatic shrinkage of sea ice over the past few decades is driving major changes, from the loss of crucial Arctic habitat to the potential influence of weather patterns around the world.

Zack Labe / JAXA

The graph, put together by Zack Labe, a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Irvine, shows the area of the Arctic covered by sea ice right now and compares it to the averages throughout the melt seasons of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. It is clear that with about 50 days of the melt season still to go, sea ice area is already below the point where it would have bottomed out for any year in the 1980s.

“It really shows that we’re in a very different Arctic,” Walt Meier, a sea ice researcher with the National Snow and Ice Data Center, said.

Arctic sea ice reflects incoming solar rays back to space, helping to regulate the planet’s temperature. But as human activities have released more and more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the ensuing warming has caused ice to melt. That melt means more of the ocean is open and absorbs solar energy, raising temperatures more and driving more melt in a vicious cycle.

Temperatures in the Arctic are rising at twice the rate of the planet as a whole, and the accompanying ice loss means that walruses and polar bears are losing critical habitat, more of the fragile local ecosystem is being opened up to shipping, and waves from storms can more easily batter coastal settlements. The reduced amount of sea ice may also be causing heat to be released into the atmosphere that is altering wind patterns and weather over the U.S., Europe, and Asia.

Those impacts will only become starker as warming and melt continues in Arctic.

The long-term decline that is evident in the graph can easily be lost in the week-to-week horserace comparisons of sea ice area to recent years, particularly the record low reached in 2012. Labe has noticed that those comparisons have led to false assertions that sea ice is recovering.

Years like 2012, when a storm ushered in exceptional August melt, are actually the outliers. This year and last year, which started the melt season with record lows thanks to winter warmth, are following the steady downward spiral of sea ice.

The chart Labe tweeted is helpful in “reminding people that we’re not going to set a record every year,” but that current sea ice levels are still remarkable, Meier said.

Absent any weather that could drive rapid melt in the coming weeks, this year is unlikely to set a record low when it reaches its minimum in September. But it is still likely to be among the top 10 lowest years, all of which have happened in the past 10 years.

In a few weeks, sea ice area will have dropped below the average annual low of the 1990s, which is noticeably below that of the ’80s. As warming continues, sea ice will reach those milestones earlier and earlier in the year, until the Arctic potentially reaches the point where it is effectively ice free in the summer.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline See how today’s Arctic melting compares to the ’80s on Jul 23, 2017.

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Women carry more than their fair share of the world’s water

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The ConversationImagine going through your day without access to clean, safe water in your home for drinking, cooking, washing, or bathing whenever you need it. According to a new report from UNICEF and the World Health Organization, 2.1 billion people around the world face that challenge every day. And the task of providing water for households falls disproportionately to women and girls, especially in rural areas.

Water, a human right, is critical for human survival and development. A sufficient supply of biologically and chemically safe water is necessary for drinking and personal hygiene to prevent diarrheal diseasestrachoma, intestinal worm infectionsstunted growth among children, and numerous other deleterious outcomes from chemical contaminants like arsenic and lead.

I have carried out research in India, Bolivia, and Kenya on the water and sanitation challenges that women and girls confront and how these experiences influence their lives. In my field work, I have seen adolescent girls, pregnant women, and mothers with small children carrying water. Through interviews, I have learned of the hardships they face when carrying out this obligatory task.

An insufficient supply of safe and accessible water poses extra risks and challenges for women and girls. Without recognizing the uneven burden of water work that women bear, well-intentioned programs to bring water to places in need will continue to fail to meet their goals.

Lost hours

Collecting water takes time. Simply to get water for drinking, bathing, cooking and other household needs, millions of women and girls spend hours every day traveling to water sources, waiting in line and carrying heavy loads — often several times a day.

The new UNICEF/WHO report states that 263 million people worldwide have access to water sources that are considered safe, but need to spend at least 30 minutes walking or queuing to collect their water. Another 159 million get their water from surface sources that are considered to be the most unsafe, such as rivers, streams, and ponds. Water from these sources is even more likely to require over 30 minutes to collect.

U.N. Women Asia and the Pacific

In a study of 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, UNICEF estimated that women there spent 16 million hours collecting water each day. Women in a recent study in Kenya reported spending an average of 4.5 hours fetching water per week, causing 77 percent to worry about their safety while fetching and preventing 24 percent from caring for their children.

When children or other family members get sick from consuming poor-quality water, which can happen even if the water is initially clean when collected, women spend their time providing care. These responsibilities represent lost opportunities for women’s employment, education, leisure, or sleep.

Heavy loads

Water is heavy. The World Health Organization recommends 20-50 liters of water per person per day for drinking, cooking, and washing. That amounts to hauling between 44 and 110 pounds of water daily for use by each household member.

And in many places, water sources are far from homes. In Asia and Africa, women walk an average of six kilometers (3.7 miles) per day collecting water. Carrying such loads over long distances can result in strained backs, shoulders, and necks, and other injuries if women have to walk over uneven and steep terrain or on busy roads.

The burden is even heavier for women who are pregnant or are also carrying small children. Moreover, pregnant women worry that transporting these heavy loads will lead to early labor or even miscarriage.

Even when a household or village has access to a safe water source close to home, residents may not use it if they believe the water is inferior in some way. As one woman told my research team in India:

Tube well water quality is not good … water is saline. Cooking is not good due to this water. Not good for drinking either. People are getting water from that neighboring village … for cooking we get water from the river.

In this community, the neighboring village was at least a kilometer away.

Fetching water can also be very dangerous for women and girls. They can face conflict at water points and the risk of physical or sexual assault. Many of these dangers also arise when women do not have access to safe, clean, and private toilets or latrines for urinating, defecating, and managing menstruation.


Global demand for water is increasing. The United Nations forecasts that if current water use patterns do not change, world demand will exceed supply by 40 percent by 2030. In such a scenario, it is hard to imagine that women’s and girls’ experiences will improve without intentional efforts.

A focus on women’s needs

When communities initiate programs to improve access to water, it is critical to ask women about their needs and experiences. Although women and girls play key roles in obtaining and managing water globally, they are rarely offered roles in water improvement programs or on local water committees. They need to be included as a right and as a practical matter. Numerous water projects in developing countries have failed because they did not include women.

And women should play meaningful roles. A study in northern Kenya found that although women served on local water management committees, conflict with men at water points persisted because the women often were not invited to meetings or were not allowed to speak.

Women who raise their voices about water concerns need to be heard. In Flint, Michigan, women were critical to revealing the city’s water crisis and continue to push for changes.

We also need broader strategies to reduce gender disparities in water access. First we need to collect more data on women’s water burden and how it affects their their health, well-being, and personal development. Second, women must be involved in creating and managing targeted programs to mitigate these risks. Third, these programs should be evaluated to determine whether they are truly improving women’s lives. And finally, social messaging affirming the idea that water work belongs only to women must be abandoned.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called empowerment of the world’s women “a global imperative.” To attain that goal, we must reduce the weight of water on women’s shoulders.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Women carry more than their fair share of the world’s water on Jul 22, 2017.

http://ift.tt/2uSn4IQ Source: http://grist.org

These 21 kids are taking on Trump, and they may be our best hope for climate action

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The best shot at large-scale climate action under the Trump administration may lie with a lawsuit set to go to trial early next year.

Juliana v. United States has a plot suitable for a Disney movie: An eclectic group of 21 kids (and their lawyers) fighting to save the world by forcing the federal government to adopt a science-based plan to reduce emissions. Their lawsuit got a boost this past week when climate scientist James Hansen published a paper in support of their cause.

The time may be right for Juliana and other lawsuits like it to gather real momentum, paving the way for meaningful victories, says Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University. He says that a “groundswell of litigation” could put “real pressure” on industries and governments to pay for local adaptation projects and make firm commitments to reduce emissions, all within Trump’s first term.

Legal experts say Juliana has helped open a new front in the battle against climate change in the United States and around the world. It’s the culmination of years of legal strategizing by Our Children’s Trust, the advocacy group that helped organize the effort. Our Children’s Trust has brought related suits in all 50 states, as part of a buckshot strategy to get one of them to break through.

“This case is especially crucial in the fight against climate disruption,” says Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. Cases like Juliana, she says, empower young people to advocate for their rights, and that “drives social change.”

The buzz about Juliana comes amid a flurry of legal challenges to the Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle environmental rules. Just this week, a series of lawsuits were filed in California as a direct challenge to the oil industry on climate change grounds, using a legal theory similar to the landmark tobacco industry lawsuits of the 1990s. The administration’s quest to roll back or reverse pending Obama-era EPA regulations is also getting blocked in the courts.

When it comes to climate change, “so far, the Trump administration is losing more frequently than it’s winning,” says Burger.

At the heart of this suit is the principle of intergenerational equity. In essence, the 21 plaintiffs in Juliana say that the federal government’s refusal to take serious action against climate change unlawfully puts the well-being of current generations ahead of future generations.

This argument might have helped spur legal action abroad, too. Since Juliana was filed in 2015, similar lawsuits have been brought by youth in Pakistan, New Zealand, and India, Burger says.

“Worldwide, there is a great deal of interest in the Juliana case not just because of the practical outcome that it might or might not achieve, but because of what it represents,” he says. “Deeply held values about environmental protection, about intergenerational equity, about the need to address climate change — these things can be linked to specific legal rights embodied in constitutions or in common law.”

So far, the courts agree. In November, they scored their first major victory, when a federal district court allowed the suit to go to trial. Judge Ann Aiken set a judicial precedent in her decision, ruling that climate change may pose an unconstitutional burden on younger generations. “I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society,” she wrote.

Late last month, a trial date for the Juliana case was scheduled for next February in Eugene, Oregon. It’s sure to set a dramatic spectacle of the kids and their lawyers on one side of the room against representatives of the Trump administration on the other, with the future of the climate on the line.

In his paper published on Wednesday, Hansen — whose granddaughter Sophie Kivlehan is a plaintiff in the case — presented an updated scientific basis for the suit’s claims. The new study, which has 14 coauthors from around the world, concludes that the burden climate change has placed on younger generations is now so huge that continuing on a high-emissions scenario would cost a minimum of $89 trillion (and as much as $535 trillion) to clean up by the end of this century. And that cleanup job would rely mainly on the still-unproven technology of negative emissions — literally sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Such a burden “unarguably sentences young people to either a massive, implausible cleanup or growing deleterious climate impacts or both,” the paper argues. The best alternative, Hansen says, is a court-ordered mandate to reduce emissions now.

After decades working as a NASA climate scientist and at times being politically pressured into silence, Hansen quit his post in 2013 in part to help build the scientific evidence backing the Juliana case. “It’s hard to solve this politically,” he said on a conference call with the media this week. “That’s why we need to take advantage of the fact that the judiciary is less subject to that pressure.”

To be sure, the ultimate success of Juliana hinges on the composition of the Supreme Court, if the case makes it that far. That fact makes Burger and his colleague, Michael Gerrard, less optimistic. “I can’t foresee a scenario where there are five votes to uphold such a ruling,” says Gerrard. Burger called success in a Supreme Court during Trump’s first term “a near impossibility.”

But victory in the Supreme Court isn’t the only objective for the kids and their lawyers. This is a trailblazing case, designed to pave the way for future success of other cases, too.

“This is strategic impact litigation,” says Burger. “As you can see from the global interest, it’s already had a real impact. It’s starting to shape the conversation about climate change.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline These 21 kids are taking on Trump, and they may be our best hope for climate action on Jul 21, 2017.

http://ift.tt/2tOv7RY Source: http://grist.org

Trump comms chief Anthony Scaramucci used to be right about climate. Not anymore.

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On Friday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer resigned over the appointment of Scaramucci, a Wall Street executive and longtime supporter of President Trump.

Scaramucci’s Twitter history holds some surprises for a Trump appointee. Case in point:

Scaramucci called the science of climate change “pretty much irrefutable” in a June 2016 interview with a financial outlet and tweeted about climate action on multiple occasions last year.

But when Scarmucci joined Trump’s transition team following the election, a very curious transformation occurred. In an appearance on CNN in December, Scaramucci noted that some scientists believe climate change is “not happening.” When the show’s host reminded him about the scientific consensus on the matter, Scaramucci countered that there was once “overwhelming science that the earth was flat.”

We’ll wait and see if Scaramucci descends further into climate denial during his role as communications secretary, which begins in August.

And speaking of incoherence on climate change, here’s a grand performance to watch in memory of Spicer’s old job:

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Trump comms chief Anthony Scaramucci used to be right about climate. Not anymore. on Jul 21, 2017.

http://ift.tt/2tnRHkY Source: http://grist.org

A gold-standard test proves we can save forests with just a little money.

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Here’s a simple way to match the priorities of rich environmentalists (saving forests and vulnerable species, like gorillas) with the needs of the poor (making a little more money): Pay people living near endangered forests not to cut them down.

The world has already promised to spend billions this way. But do people just take the cash and still hack away?

A new study of a cash-for-forest program attempts to answer that question. Northwestern University economist Seema Jayachandran led a randomized, controlled trial — the gold standard for science — monitoring 60 villages in Uganda over two years.

People were cutting down trees around all the villages. But they chopped down fewer in areas where villagers were paid $11.40 an acre per year not to. It’s a great bang for the buck, if you measure in terms of keeping carbon out of the atmosphere — several times cheaper than other popular methods, like subsidizing solar panels.

“I came into this study expecting to be a wet blanket,” Jayachandran, told the New York Times. “We were surprised the impacts were so large.”

Everyone has their pet ideas for saving the world. We need good evidence like this to figure out which ones work best.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline A gold-standard test proves we can save forests with just a little money. on Jul 21, 2017.

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Every coal waste dump site is a disaster waiting to happen

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This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The United States still relies on coal to provide 30 percent of its electricity, and a typical plant produces more than 125,000 tons of coal ash — the byproduct of burning coal — every year. For decades, power companies dumped this product, which can contain toxic metals such as arsenic and mercury, into unlined ponds that had the potential to leak and contaminate the drinking water of nearby communities.

Despite an EPA rule that requires power companies to dispose of the waste responsibly and monitor water quality near the dumping sites, coal ash continues to be a serious environmental concern. The rule regulating coal ash is weak and gives utilities the option to dump coal ash in landfills and old mines — often turning them into toxic waste sites. Many are located in and around marginalized communities without the power to fight back. Now, with an administration that’s hostile to environmental regulations in power, the coal ash problem is likely to get worse.

“These are all disasters waiting to happen,” says Frank Holleman, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The biggest disaster to date occurred in 2008 after a retaining wall surrounding the Kingston Fossil Plant collapsed, releasing more than 1 billion gallons into the Emory and Clinch rivers and the surrounding area. Mixed with the river water, the coal waste created a toxic sludge that destroyed or damaged 40 homes in a middle class, mostly white community.

The spill cleanup included trucking the spilled coal ash hundreds of miles away to Uniontown, Alabama, a predominantly black town where a large percentage of the population lives below the poverty line. Starting in 2009, the coal ash was dumped into a landfill, and local activists charged the leak with threatening community health and the surrounding environment. In 2016, the company that owns the landfill filed a $30 million defamation suit against four Uniontown activists who criticized the site. In February, the suit was settled and the company dropped their claim. Uniontown is stuck with the landfill — for now.

“A modern, lined landfill is tremendously safer than these water pits next to a river,” Holleman says. But some environmental justice advocates say that landfills are not always safe. “Any engineer will tell you,” says Lisa Evans, a senior attorney at Earthjustice, “all landfills leak.” When they leak, the toxic metals from coal ash can seep into the groundwater and contaminate drinking water sources.

In 2014, six years after the Tennessee spill, the EPA issued its final rule regulating coal combustion residuals, known as the CCR rule. Power companies would have to line their disposal sites to prevent leaking, monitor local water quality, and release more information to the public about their disposal activities. After intense lobbying by the utility industry, the EPA did not classify coal ash as a hazardous material, but rather as solid waste, meaning the federal rules regulating coal ash were less stringent than what many environmentalists had wanted to see. Also, the EPA has no enforcement authority.

To environmentalists, this rule was only a partial win. The many new regulations, Evans notes, are “relatively easy to get around” because “there are lots of holes in the ground” that aren’t covered by the CCR rule. For example, municipal landfills and abandoned mines are exempt from the rule, and, she noted, there were concerns that power companies will try to save money by cutting corners or disposing of the waste unsafely. “This is the injustice of it all,” Evans says. “Building a landfill is 19th century technology. The money [utility companies save] amounts to pennies.”

For power companies that use off-site landfills for disposals, certain areas become prime targets. A 2016 environmental justice report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found that nonwhite and low-income individuals are disproportionately affected by the location of coal ash disposal sites. Because the CCR rule doesn’t include enforcement from the EPA, fighting coal waste disposal sites falls on the backs of communities with fewer resources to fight back. “It’s easier to build a new landfill in communities of color, or poor communities,” says Evans.

The residents of Jesup, Georgia — a rural, cash-strapped town more than 200 miles away from Atlanta — experienced this problem. A waste-hauling company had applied for a permit to dump coal ash in their landfill in 2016. In June, HuffPost reported that a Phoenix-based company, Republic Services, planned to expand a rail line that leads to the community’s landfill in order to haul 10,000 tons of coal ash through the community and into the dump, and they intended to do this every day.

Jesup residents pushed back — and won. The local newspaper published dozens of articles about the dangers of coal ash and organizers recruited environmentalists and local lawmakers to help amplify their cause. While Republic Services backed off on their plans, there’s nothing legally stopping them from trying again. “A lot of people come up to me and say: ‘Congratulations! Y’all won!’” Peggy Riggins told HuffPost. “And I say, ‘We don’t have anything in writing.’”

Holleman acknowledges that many problems arise when utility companies keep the public in the dark. “In some communities, there have been very legitimate concerns and outright opposition,” Holleman says. “Some utility companies always want to act in secret and drop things in communities rather than work with them.”

But what are environmentally acceptable options for disposal sites?

Utility companies sometimes dispose of their coal ash by turning it into concrete or using it in soil, which is known as a “beneficial use” project. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, if the coal ash is “encapsulated,” meaning it can’t leach toxic materials when it gets wet, it’s safe to reuse in construction. But if it’s not encapsulated, problems can occur, as they did for residents of Bokoshe, Oklahoma, where coal ash flies around like pollen covering homes, lawns, and swimming pools. A state-permitted disposal pit dumps the coal waste into an old coal mine, a practice called as minefilling — something the state of Oklahoma considers beneficial use. Residents blame coal ash for what they say are an increasing number of cases of asthma and cancer in their community.

Further north in Pines, Indiana, coal ash that was disposed of in a nearby landfill and used to fix roads caused the town to be designated a Superfund site in 2004. The EPA tested drinking water wells in Pines and found high levels of toxic metals in the wells and residential areas.

While environmental advocates say that the Obama-era rule is weak, the Trump administration is poised to make it worse. Scott Pruitt’s EPA has rolled back several environmental regulations designed to protect the health of the public. In May, the agency informed states that it was working on guidance that would give them more flexibility in regulating coal ash. “EPA expects that its new guidance will allow for the safe disposal and continued beneficial use of coal ash, while enabling states to decide what works best for their environment,” the agency said.

“This poses lots of dangers to people in coal states,” Evans says. “States will be given the reigns to run a permit program under an EPA that doesn’t care.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Every coal waste dump site is a disaster waiting to happen on Jul 20, 2017.

http://ift.tt/2ufcgRR Source: http://grist.org