Tag Archives: Grist

ExxonMobil and Chevron are some of the most influential climate lobbyists. Yikes.

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A report from InfluenceMap, a U.K. think tank, assessed the 50 biggest companies influencing climate policy and found that 35 actively fight against climate-friendly legislation.

The below chart maps out the companies according to how strongly they support policies to combat climate change (the x-axis) and how politically engaged they are when doing so (the y-axis).

Click to embiggen. InfluenceMap

Researchers selected the companies from a list of the 250 largest, non-state-owned companies, ignoring the 200 companies that appeared to be fence-sitters on the issue.

The anti-climate gang includes pretty much exactly who you’d imagine — Shell, Chevron, Koch Industries, and our old climate-denying frenemy ExxonMobil. On the pro-climate side, we have Apple, Tesla, and Ikea (thanks, Scandinavia!). Many of these companies are committed to buying 100 percent renewable power.

InfluenceMap noted a spike in companies taking steps to combat climate change in the past two years, following the Paris Agreement and Trump’s election as president. Here’s to hoping that trend will continue.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline ExxonMobil and Chevron are some of the most influential climate lobbyists. Yikes. on Sep 15, 2017.

http://ift.tt/2faZpx1 Source: http://grist.org

Florida Governor Rick Scott is figuring out his feelings on climate change post-hurricane.

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“Clearly, our environment changes all the time,” the Republican leader said after touring Irma’s devastation. “And whether that’s cycles we’re going through or whether that’s man-made, I wouldn’t be able to tell you which one it is.”

It’s good to see Scott pondering those wacky ideas we’ve all heard floating around: Human-caused climate changemore intense hurricanesrising sea levels, etc. Coming to terms with climate change is a journey we all must pursue at our own pace! It’s not urgent or anything.

So what is Scott feeling sure about? Let’s hear it:

This is a catastrophic storm our state has never seen,” he warned on Saturday before Irma hit Florida.

“We ought to go solve problems. I know we have beach renourishment issues. I know we have flood-mitigation issues,” he said in the wake of Irma.

“I’m worried about another hurricane,” he shared with reporters while touring the Florida Keys this week. We feel ya, Scott.

Big ideas! Perhaps some fellow Florida Republicans could illuminate their common thread.

“[I]t’s certainly not irresponsible to highlight how this storm was probably fueled — in part — by conditions that were caused by human-induced climate change,” Florida congressman and Grist 50er Carlos Curbelo said this week.

In fact, it just might be necessary.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Florida Governor Rick Scott is figuring out his feelings on climate change post-hurricane. on Sep 15, 2017.

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

Hurricane Jose may be headed toward New England.

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September is historically the busiest month of hurricane season in the Atlantic, and this year is proving no exception.

Up next is Hurricane Jose, expected to curve toward the United States over the weekend. The storm is expected to grow larger but not necessarily more intense. Its path is what’s most concerning: A broad swath of tropical storm or low-end hurricane force winds could affect everywhere from Washington, D.C., to New York City to Boston next week. In a worst-case scenario, it means another round of large scale power outages.

Both major long-range computer weather models, the American GFS and the European ECMWF, now agree that Hurricane Jose will likely approach New England by next Wednesday. There’s about a 50 percent chance the storm’s center will make landfall somewhere between the Mid-Atlantic and eastern Canada.

Understandably, meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center — who, on the heels of Harvey and Irma have now endured the busiest first half of September in weather history — are getting a little exhausted. In addition to Jose, there are two other potential tropical storms or hurricanes spinning in the Atlantic right now, one of which may affect the Caribbean and perhaps also the United States mainland within the next 10 days.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Hurricane Jose may be headed toward New England. on Sep 15, 2017.

http://ift.tt/2h7Bdst Source: http://grist.org

Florida’s best defense against natural disasters is nature

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The highest point in all of Florida is a hill that tops out at 345 feet above sea level, just south of the Alabama border. Much of the rest of the state lies far, far below that — like, 340 feet below — a peninsula jutting into the Caribbean around the same height as the Caribbean. It’s the last place you’d pick to ride out a hurricane, given the choice.

But that’s the choice Florida’s 20 million residents had to reckon with last week, as Hurricane Irma barrelled toward the state, breaking records and flattening towns across the Caribbean. Many expected it to be the costliest disaster in U.S. history — not just because of the Irma’s towering strength.

Florida is seemingly made for disaster. Its sprawling cities have been built up quickly and extensively, at the expense of the ecosystems that act as a natural defense against the worst of a hurricane’s blow. There’s nothing to stop a hurricane like Irma from wreaking havoc wherever it goes, but dunes, wetlands, mangroves, and coral reefs can all play an important role in absorbing some of the destructive energy of a storm. Unfortunately, over the past century, the Sunshine State has lost the majority of all these natural shock absorbers, trading them for arable land and new developments.

As Florida and Texas start to rebuild from the blows dealt by Irma and Harvey, many are weighing how best to fortify vulnerable coastal cities, even as rising sea level brings the threat of flooding closer and closer.

“If you live near the water, the difference between a crashing wave and a slowly moving chop against the walls of your home can be everything,” says Rob Nowicki, a post-doctoral researcher at Florida’s Mote Marine Lab.

Houston’s mayor made a plea for funding to construct a massive sea wall, or “coastal spine,” to protect the region from dangerous storm surges in the future. “We cannot talk about rebuilding” he said, “if we do not build the coastal spine.”

This bunker-building approach to natural disaster — which Nathanael Johnson wrote about in Houston’s struggle to control floodwater — is prone to occasional, catastrophic failure, especially as climate change continues to shift the baseline on our expectations of what a storm can do. The problem is, for Florida, these kinds of concrete-heavy projects aren’t really an option.

“What distinguishes all of South Florida is that it’s got this porous limestone base,” says Ashley Dawson, author of Extreme Cities. No matter what barriers you put between yourself and the sea, water will be able to seep around it. In Miami Beach, king tides regularly flood up through the city’s storm drains, hurricane or no. At the most dire moments before Irma made landfall, Miami — with an average elevation of 6 feet above sea level — was predicted to see as much as 10 feet of storm surge.

When Irma made a last minute swerve inland, pushing the storm surge away from populated coastal cities, much of the predicted damage was avoided. Still, Miami and Jacksonville saw several feet of flooding, power outages, and overwhelmed infrastructure.

Other cities, like Tampa and Sarasota, remain especially vulnerable because they sit on the on the edge of very shallow seas, Dawson says. That means when storms sweep in from deeper ocean they pile up some extremely high, extremely powerful waves ahead of them. Although Tampa only ended up with a couple of feet of storm surge from Irma, initial forecasts were chilling; if the storm had veered a different way, nine to 15 feet of surge might have slammed into the city.

Shoreline habitats like dunes and wetlands can block storm surge, usually the deadliest part of a major hurricane, because they slow down dangerous waves and prevent water from moving as far inland as it would without them.

A recent study in Nature’s online journal calculated that wetlands saved New York $625 million in flooding damage during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, by absorbing both storm surge and rain.

“As a rule of thumb, you can expect larger and more prominent ecosystems to provide more protection,” says Nowicki.

The same swamps and mangroves that would help protect Florida from storms are also what helped keep people and development out of the sparsely populated state until the 20th century.

To make South Florida habitable, the Army Corps of Engineers dug 2,000 miles of canals and levees starting in the 1930s. Beaches were bulwarked, channels were dredged, subdivisions snaked their way into former marshland, and Disney World appeared in a puff of pink smoke (I assume). Along the way, Florida’s natural wetlands receded and its once-stunning coral reefs all but disappeared. Florida is now the third most populous state, behind California and Texas..

In the last few years, Florida Governor Rick Scott has overseen large budget cuts to the department in charge of researching and preserving these ecosystems, enabling the kind of risky coastal development that puts people too close to dangerous storms. And President Donald Trump recently reversed an Obama-era mandate that federally funded construction projects abide by a higher flooding standard to take sea level rise into consideration. All of this leaves Florida in a poor position to weather future storms.

Then there’s the question of Florida’s coral reefs. Offshore reefs can’t stop surge from coming inland the way dunes and wetlands can, but they sap energy from the waves washing over them. Coral cover in the Caribbean, including in Florida, has decreased by 80 percent, leaving low-lying shorelines less protected than ever.

Mote Marine Laboratory, where Robert Nowicki works, is focused on research into how to restore Florida’s degraded reefs by growing and planting new coral colonies onto former reef sites.

“While much of our living coral is gone, the skeletons remain,” Nowicki explains. The structure of a reef, even a dead one, will continue to act as a brake on waves for a while, but over time the skeletons break down and, without live coral to rebuild them, turn into rubble.

This kind of outplanting project is based on the way foresters restore damaged forests by raising trees in nurseries and then distributing them into the wild. It’s labor-intensive and slow, yet Nowicki says it’s the best bet for rebuilding these damaged reefs, and their storm-buffering services, before they’re gone for good.

“Getting living coral back on the old skeletons,” he says, “is a kind of race against time.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Florida’s best defense against natural disasters is nature on Sep 15, 2017.

http://ift.tt/2h7qeiT Source: http://grist.org

Don’t buy Apple’s new iPhone. Fix your old one.

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original video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zddhMxoMLkA

You, savvy internet reader, have likely noticed that Apple released a new iPhone. We’ll admit: It sure is pretty! But should you buy it?

Watch our video, above, and read on for more details.

Apple has sold 1.2 billion iPhones since it launched the first model 10 years ago, which means the company has emitted as much as 100 million tons of CO2 extracting, refining, manufacturing, shipping, and powering phones like the one you are probably reading this on. To cut down on that colossal footprint, we should all be trying to keep these resource-intensive devices in circulation as long as possible. Here’s how to make your smartphone last much longer.

For one thing, keep it from breaking. That means you should use a protective case, keep it dry, and make some simple changes to preserve battery life as long as possible.

If your phone does break, you can fix it! The company iFixit makes guides and tools to help you make your own repairs. (Note: We did this! If we can, you probably can. But know that it takes some elbow grease and comes with a risk of causing extra damage, so there’s no shame in taking your phone to a professional who will repair it for you instead.)

If your phone is truly broken — or it’s just time for that shiny new one — sell it to someone who will use it well. The market for second-hand phones is strong, which is good news for you ($$$$). And even a busted phone contains parts that may be useful for refurbishing other phones or devices, so make sure it ends up in the hands of a responsible recycler. Apple has made efforts to improve the way it recycles its own devices, but a lot of the valuable parts it collects end up shredded to protect proprietary information.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Don’t buy Apple’s new iPhone. Fix your old one. on Sep 14, 2017.

http://ift.tt/2y1IGQJ Source: http://grist.org

After Harvey and Irma, people of color face displacement

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

Hilton Kelley has been sounding off on Facebook Live the past few days about families who evacuated their homes to escape Hurricane Harvey and are now getting eviction notices. The families live in Port Arthur, Texas, the small Gulf Coast city about 90 miles east of Houston, but are currently scattered across Louisiana and Texas. Kelley himself had to evacuate — his fourth time doing so in the last 15 years due to hurricane flooding — but was able to make it back to his home last week. He’s now trying to locate as many dispersed families as possible via social media to find out who hasn’t come back and why. That’s when he found out about the eviction notices.

Those kinds of blindsiding evictions are a rootshock that many renter families in New Orleans know too well, as the same happened for Hurricane Katrina. Plenty of New Orleanians didn’t even get a notice — instead they found out via TV that they would not be able to return to their homes. This certainly was true for tenants of the city’s “Big Four” public housing projects, which were closed for good during Katrina even though many of them collected no floodwaters.

This is the kind of displacement that Kelley fights to help families avoid, through his nonprofit Community In-Power and Development Association, which advocates on behalf of families living under the constant threat of environmental disasters.

That doesn’t just mean flooding and hurricanes. Port Arthur is saturated with oil refineries and petrochemical plants, many of them located within yards of homes, schools, and playgrounds. The Carver Terrace public housing projects in Port Arthur were completely surrounded by these poisonous industries before they were torn down just last year, which Kelley had been petitioning the federal government to do for years. All of Carver Terrace’s tenants were relocated, to finally remove them from the clouds of air pollution molesting their lungs and nostrils every day.

That kind of displacement was necessary — requested, even, from the tenants themselves. The involuntary kind of displacement, however, that’s becoming a more frequent event in Port Arthur due to heavier and harsher storms, is getting harder for Kelley to weather. He contemplated for a moment not returning to his home and restaurant that he runs after his most recent evacuation from Harvey. He changed his mind only after considering what he’d lose and how difficult it would be starting over in another city.

“There are sharks out there waiting for us to let loose what we have here and swoop in as we migrate out,” says Kelley. “Industries will just engulf this land and then we’ve lost what we’ve owned. I own property here. When I leave here, I don’t own anything in Dallas, or Colorado, or New York. And I can’t imagine trying to buy a restaurant or a home there in this present situation.”

Displacement like this is increasingly becoming inevitable for people of color, not just because of climate change and extreme weather events, but because of discriminatory policies that push them into unlivable conditions. It’s a reality that is rarely confronted when it comes time to map out where people can and can’t rebuild. But ignoring it likely means that policies for rebuilding will suffer from the same disparities that have predated recent storm recoveries by several decades.

The problem of displacement is even more pronounced for Latinos. At the same time that Harvey was devastating the land, Trump decided to recall DACA, which put thousands of immigrant children at even greater risk. If Congress approves Trump’s request, then those children will face the kind of relocation that doesn’t just send them to another city, but rather, to a detention center, and then to another country that they, in many cases, have no real connection to, if they grew up in the U.S.

Bryan Parras, an organizer with Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (t.e.j.a.s), is working a lot these days with Latino families who are bracing for recovery from both Harvey and Trump’s restrictive immigration policies. Displacement is a threat that always lurks around Latino communities, and their options for sanctuary are growing more limited, especially as new storms keep gathering in the Gulf.

“That’s what disaster does — it really destroys the fabric of a community and that’s even deeper destruction, because it’s psychological, it’s spiritual, it’s cultural,” says Parras. “Even if they stay, that place is different. It’s been traumatized, so staying doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be able to maintain those cultural ties to your neighbors.”

‘There is no true security’

An equitable recovery will be especially difficult in Houston given that the city doesn’t believe in zoning. It’s because of that absence of zoning restrictions that pollution is concentrated in the east side of the city, all the way down the Ship Channel to Port Arthur, along which lives the heaviest concentration of Latino and African-American families. This is also where the heaviest concentration of petrochemical facilities, toxic Superfund sites, overflowing sewers, garbage incinerators, and landfills are located.

“This no-zoning policy has allowed for a somewhat erratic land-use pattern in the city,” wrote environmental justice scholars Robert Bullard and Beverly Wright in their 2012 book, The Wrong Complexion for Protection: How the Government Response to Disaster Endangers African American Communities. “Houston’s black neighborhoods were unofficially ‘zoned’ for garbage.”

And now that hash of toxic chemicals and trash are spilled across those same neighborhoods in Houston, where black and Latino families have fewer resources for recovery. Public health officials are telling people not to touch the floodwaters, particularly in those places where volatile, flammable, and poisonous chemicals have spilled.

These problems were avoidable. Environmental justice advocates had been petitioning the federal government for years to update the chemical disaster rule in EPA’s risk management program, to better protect families living on the fenceline of these refineries and chemical plants. Obama issued an executive order in 2016 requesting the EPA to begin making these risk management program adjustments. However, one of the first orders of business for Trump when he took the White House this year was to delay those updates.

Nine months later, families’ homes are surrounded by a toxic stew created from the discharges of oil refineries, overflowing sewers, and exploding chemical plants. We’ve not yet seen the toxicology report to see what kind of short- and long-term effects these spills and explosions will have on people’s health. Meanwhile, the 29th Congressional District that includes these communities has been known for a long time as the district with the least number of people with health insurance in the state with the least number of uninsured people.

Not only that, but these families are also living in cities where the infrastructure for stormwater and flood management is aged and in disrepair. This only deepens the racial disparities at play when it comes to exposure to environmental risks and the increased likelihood of displacement. New Orleans is a prime example of this — flooding was caused by the levees that burst during Katrina 12 years ago, and the city suffered massive flooding again just last month despite the multi-billion dollar reconstruction of those levees. African Americans in the city have the hardest time recovering their homes and communities.

“There is no true security — we can, at best, reduce risk, not eliminate it,” says the New Orleans–based geographer Richard Campanella. “Engineering devices (such as levees and floodwalls) enabled this deltaic city to become a modern metropolis. But they also tended to produce a false sense of security. People took for granted that those engineering devices would always work as designed. At least twice in the past 12 years, they didn’t.”

New Orleans’ recent flooding was the culprit of a faulty drainage system — one that was considered the “best in the world” a century ago, according to Mark Davis, director of Tulane University’s Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy. But it was a system that did not keep up with the rapid growth and urbanization of New Orleans in the decades following. Similar was true in Houston for Harvey, where flooding on the west side of the city was the consequence of an inadequate reservoir system that engineers said was badly in need of updating decades ago.

“What we’re seeing in Texas is a reminder that they could easily have had this much rain with no hurricane force winds whatsoever,” says Davis. “It was a slow moving storm with enough low pressure that essentially [water] rises and it makes it hard for the place to drain. We’re really going to have to start thinking in terms of what natural risks we’re running and what reasons we’re running them for and whether we’re being honest with ourselves about what that really means from an investment and justice standpoint.”

Invisible Houston

Bullard, a noted environmental justice activist and scholar, has been talking about these problems since his first book, Invisible Houston, published 30 years ago this month. The “invisible” parts of the city are those black and Latino neighborhoods overlooked or ignored when making decisions about new urban development. These are places where people of color live not because they chose to, but because of racist policies like redlining. Bullard warns that these communities could be rendered invisible again during the Harvey recovery phase.

“When you start talking about how you are going to rebuild and recover, that has to be watched closely because if not it’s just going to be a rebuilding on top of inequity,” says Bullard, who today is based in Houston as a professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University. “If we’re not careful, those areas might be rebuilt with all kinds of protections, greening them up with more resiliency, but it will push out people who lived in those neighborhoods for a long time — so you get that rebuilding gentrification going on.”

The phenomenon Bullard references is called “climate gentrification” in some corners — and this is a major concern for black communities in South Florida, as Irma takes its destructive path. It seems wrong to give climate change that kind of credit, though. The people of these heaviest-hit communities are vulnerable to displacement because of the injustices they lived with long before any floods and storms. They live in flood-prone communities because of racist policies like redlining that piloted the segregation still seen today.

As Susan Rogers explained in the blog OffCite last year about the Homeowners’ Loan Corporation redlining maps of Houston from the 1930s, “the racism is clearly evident” in the areas designated for disinvestment. The maps with the cooler colors (blue, green) were assigned to neighborhoods that the HOLC determined were safe for lending. The warmer colors (yellow, red) were labeled as “declining” or “hazardous” neighborhoods that lenders should avoid. This was one kind of zoning that apparently Houston was willing to live with.

As it happens, neighborhoods with high concentrations of African Americans were painted as not cool for investment. One of the documents culpable in that redlining process was the Federal Housing Administration’s “Planning Profitable Neighborhoods,” guidance created for homebuilders, primarily for the suburbs. Writes Rogers:

The “Planning Profitable Neighborhoods” bulletin describes and illustrates in a series of drawings “good” and “bad” development practices. Without fail, these drawings define the now-typical suburban models of discontinuous streets, large lots, and strip malls as “good” and traditional urban typologies as “bad.” In effect, the combined policies and practices such as “redlining” ensured that central cities, mixed-use areas, and neighborhoods of color would decline.

That decline didn’t only come from the denial of lending and investment in those neighborhoods. It also happened because the models recognized in “good” neighborhoods — those “large lots,” for example — are what ended up making the city even more prone to flooding. Besides the city’s faulty storm water management, Houston also suffers regularly from urban flooding due to the copious levels of parking lots and impervious surfaces paved over the city. So, what was “good” and profitable for sprawl and the suburbs is what also increased the vulnerability of these redlined neighborhoods, making their designation as “hazardous” somewhat of a self-sealing premise.

Pinning displacement or gentrification on climate change only absolves the direct state and city actors who pushed black and Latino families into “hazardous” living conditions to begin with.

That history should not be simply paved over in the recovery.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline After Harvey and Irma, people of color face displacement on Sep 14, 2017.

http://ift.tt/2x0850h Source: http://grist.org

Hurricane Irma wiped out half of Florida’s citrus crop.

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The Sunshine State expected to harvest 75 million boxes of oranges this year. That number is looking decidedly slimmer after Irma knocked fruit off trees, flooded fields and groves, and broke irrigation pipes.

The hurricane took out an estimated 50 percent of the season’s citrus crop statewide, USA Today reports. Based on reports from the field, losses may be even higher in South Florida.

And yes, that’s likely to hike up the price of your orange juice. Florida produces nearly half of U.S. citrus, despite recent declines in productivity. Since 2005, the state’s citrus harvest has fallen by 70 percent partly due to citrus greening, a disease that cuts yields and makes fruit more bitter.

The hurricane also damaged other crops in the southern and central parts of the state, especially tomatoes and strawberries.

Though Florida’s agricultural outlook is not pretty, things are even worse in the Caribbean. Irma stripped entire islands bare of vegetation and posed a serious threat to food security. The storm flooded fields and destroyed crops in places like Haiti and Cuba, where many people are subsistence farmers.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Hurricane Irma wiped out half of Florida’s citrus crop. on Sep 14, 2017.

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