“You took my son away from me,” Lesley McSpadden told news cameras on Monday. “Do you know how hard it was for me to get him to stay in school and graduate?”
She and her husband were supposed to take their 18-year-old son Michael Brown to Vatterott College this week, where he was enrolled for HVAC training. The objective of the program: “to prepare the graduate with the theory and working knowledge of heating, air conditioning, refrigeration, high pressure steam, energy management, and commercial environmental systems, in order to secure an entry-level position in the industry as a maintenance or service technician.”
Instead, Brown’s parents spent the week at news conferences and in mourning for their son, who was shot dead on Aug. 10 by a police officer in Ferguson, a small suburb of St. Louis, Mo. Why the police officer killed him is in dispute. St. Louis County police chief Jon Belmar told reporters, “The genesis of this was a physical confrontation.”
Ferguson police released details of their investigation today, which include video footage of what appears to be a scuffle between Brown and a convenience store worker over a pack of cigars. Brown’s friend Dorian Johnson was with Brown in the store and later when police shot him dead. According to Johnson, things turned violent in the police encounter when the officer, Darren Wilson, told the two to move from the street where they were walking onto the sidewalk — “Get the F on the sidewalk,” was how Johnson heard him say it. The physical part happened after the young men responded that they were just a minute from their destination, in an apartment complex.
Whatever the truth is in this matter, the outcome is that a black teenager who had a promising future, for both himself and his community, is now dead. Ferguson residents have been protesting and rallying for days in response to not only Brown’s killing, but also the militarized show of police authority in their small town, where two-thirds of the population is African American, but only three of its 53 cops are black. Add in that all but one city council representative are white, as is the mayor, and you have a majority controlled by a minority.
How does a young black man make sense of his environment under that kind of apartheid?
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who’s been called in to intervene in Ferguson, has pondered this question quite a bit. It’s why St. Louis is part of his “Smart on Crime” reforms, which focus on curbing mass incarceration and changing the way communities are policed. In fact, Holder was just in St. Louis last November to cheer his program, recalling in his speech that day his time as a Superior Court judge and U.S. attorney in the late 1980s and 1990s where he witnessed firsthand the impact of the criminalization of black youth.
“Day after day, I watched lines of young people — most often young men of color — stream through my courtroom,” said Holder. “Too many of the faces I saw became familiar — because too many of the people I sentenced served their time, were released from prison, and sooner or later returned to the same behavior that had led them to my courtroom in the first place.”
This is what Brown’s mother was getting at when she asked, “Do you know how hard it was for me to get him to stay in school and graduate?”
Brown graduated later than most of his high school senior class, on Aug. 1, because he was in an alternative learning program, a program “to help the students facing the longest academic odds,” reports the Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery (who was arrested by St. Louis police earlier this week). “In the last two months, man, Mike was there every doggone day and he was giving it his full effort,” said one of Brown’s teachers.
And here’s why it hurts so much. We needed Michael Brown to get that diploma, and to get another one from the HVAC program at Vatterott College. In a world that is heating and cooling at increasingly uncontrollable rates, we need more black youth learning how to work with this technology, and less of them in jail or dead. Emerson Electronics, a global powerforce in creating energy efficient applications — which chose St. Louis for its world headquarters — needed Brown, and not just for his work skills. Companies like that need young black men who know the nuances and unique needs of marginalized communities like those throughout the St. Louis metro.
Brown could have applied those skills in places like Old North St. Louis, the 2011 winner of the National Award for Overall Excellence in Smart Growth Achievement, issued by the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities. The award recognized the community’s efforts to produce affordable, energy-efficient housing and upgraded public transit infrastructure to improve the quality of its residents’ lives. The partnership invested millions of dollars to assist the community in making this happen — obligatory, given government policies had made it a space of decay and neglect.
This is the kind of work Brown got his diploma for. His work could have helped change the legacy covenant over St. Louis from one of restrictive bigotry to one of sustainability, to make it more livable, or at least just more walkable. Instead of being the week of Brown’s freshman orientation, this will be the week of his funeral.
“You know how many black men graduate?,” his mother asked reporters. “Not many. Because you bring them down to this type of level, where they feel like they don’t got nothing to live for anyway.”
Trains — does anything else have cooler whistles? Does anything else have more impenetrable regulations?
As someone whose childhood home was just a few blocks away from the freight line, I feel a personal connection to all this oil-by-rail, exploding/leaking train drama that our nation has been going through for the last two years. Just looking at this graph, I think, 2012, you were so innocent!
Last week I wrote about something that might end this disaster spike — the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) proposed new safety rules for oil-by-rail and disaster response. You could say that it took them long enough, but whatever. Let us live in the moment and be grateful they are doing this now.
But there is more. Part of the proposed rules involves the vehicle that is at the center of so much of this issue — the older-than-the-hills and puncture-prone DOT-111 tank car. These older tank cars, mostly intended for transporting non-hazardous liquids like corn syrup, have lately been drafted into ferrying volatile Bakken shale crude around the continent. Now the Transportation Department intends to phase them out. This looks like good news, and it is — but there is a wrinkle. The DOT-111s won’t be going away away. Instead, they’ll be given a new job: carrying tar sands crude from Alberta.
As Elana Schor, over at Energy & Environment Daily, writes:
DOT’s oil sands vision for older tank cars, outlined in an analysis published alongside its July 23 proposed rule, rests on the addition of thermal jackets and insulation to nearly 7,800 cars and the conversion of more than 15,000 cars to carry Canadian crude without retrofits. What the analysis leaves unaddressed, raising concerns among environmentalists, is the safety risks of filling spill-prone tank cars with crude that is less explosive but potentially more challenging to clean up.
Hell yeah, “more challenging to clean up.” Four years ago, a pipeline carrying diluted tar sands crude (aka diluted bitumen, or dilbit for short) spilled out of a pipeline and into the Kalamazoo River, and cleanup is still going on. It turns out that everything we think we know about oil spill cleanup doesn’t apply to dilbit. In the case of the Kalamazoo River, the bitumen didn’t float on the surface of the water where it could be contained and skimmed off like your more classic oil spill; instead,it separated from the solvent used to dilute it and sank to the bottom of the riverbed.
The DOT analysis assumes that the bitumen carried by the DOT-111s won’t be diluted — the word “dilbit” isn’t mentioned once. However, some tar sands crude is already being shipped by rail. Two years ago, when the State Department put TransCanada’s permit for the Keystone XL pipeline on hold, BNSF announced that the railroad was happy to start shipping tar sands crude for anyone stymied by the lack of pipeline. “Whatever people bring to us, we’re ready to haul,” a spokeswoman for the railroad told Bloomberg at the time.
According to the DOT anaylsis, BNSF expects the shipping of tar sands crude by rail to start growing in 2014 and then take off in 2016 and 2017. If you’re into that sort of thing, you can plot your own imaginary tar sands crude delivery using this neat tool from BNSF’s website.
The bitumen in a train car doesn’t have to be diluted the way that it would in a pipeline. It could just be shipped in its raw form. But if it’s loaded into a tanker car like the DOT-111, it would have to be made liquid somehow. Dilution is cheaper than the only other option: tricking out the tanker car with enough heating infrastructure to keep the cargo liquid.
These “safety vs. cost” tradeoffs play a big part in the whole crude-by-rail story. The standards are being rewritten because of accidents that have been made vastly worse because of frisky hydrocarbons in Bakken crude. It’s possible to strip that oil of its most flammable elements before it gets loaded onto a train. But doing that would have cost billions of dollars. The technology already existed in other parts of the country But there was no incentive to spend the money for it: once the crude was loaded onto a train, the liability for any accidents fell on the railroad, instead of the company that extracted it in the first place.
These new safety rules are the best chance we have right now of making sure that the risks involved in this new habit we have acquired of shipping oil around the country are shared evenly among the people who most benefit.
Is it going to be safer to use DOT-111s to ship tar sands crude than Bakken shale crude? Probably. But should we do it? Compared to shipping Bakken in a DOT-111, just about anything looks safer. That doesn’t make it a great idea.
So, I just got back from a week in Bali — wait, don’t go! It was for work! I had the opportunity to attend a four-day summit on women and climate change, which you can read more about here.
How does one deal with the cognitive dissonance of being on a business trip in a place whose pop culture reputation revolves around lust and debauchery? Well, if you’re a young, efficiency-minded person in the digital age, you will download an app that allows you to scroll through pictures of men in a 15-mile radius (at a rate of approximately 75 per minute) to find one who you might like to invite to the private pool in your villa. Yes — I am talking about Tinder, the renowned “hookup app” of my doomed generation.
(A brief overview of how Tinder works, for the happily uninitiated: You render a judgment of “nope” or “like” on fellow users based on a handful of pictures and an extremely sparse “About Me” section. If you and another user each “like” each other, congratulations — you have made a match! Then you have the distinct pleasure of being allowed to stiltedly chat with each other.)
If you’re me, however, you will use that app to conduct a little social experiment. I took it upon myself to try to engage Bali’s Men of Tinder in conversation about women and climate change, to extremely varying results.
My initial strategy was to try to start conversations based on shared interests — as one does when trying to meet new people. It was not successful.
D*** never responded to me, but he also did not block me, which happened a LOT throughout this experiment.
If you think that transitioning an open proposition for sex with a stranger into a conversation about women and climate change is easy, you are mistaken, my friend. I can’t say I was always graceful with it, but I tried my best.
I also attempted a couple of “long con” tactics, but that ended up creating some attachment, apparently. Sorry it didn’t work out, L****.
And then, ultimately, the inevitable — I had the misfortune of crossing paths with a tenacious and woefully ignorant (but aren’t they all?) mansplainer in Bali’s Tinderverse. Disclaimer: The conversation below has been edited somewhat because, if not, it would be approximately 20 pages long. Only mansplainers would be willing to read endless volumes of their own misspelled, grammatically disastrous prose! B** also kept trying to talk to me in very poor Spanish, for reasons I could not begin to fathom.
What conclusions can we come to from this experiment?
1) Tinder in Bali is the worst.
2) Tinder is not the best platform to have a productive conversation about the role of women in mitigating climate change. In fact, it’s a pretty terrible platform for it.
3) Wherever you go, you can always find a mansplainer.
No productive conclusions were reached with regard to male interest in women and climate change. I refuse to use this segment of the population as any sort of indicator of the male sex as large, because otherwise I would have to throw myself out of a window.
As they say on Tinder — grossly enough — thanks for playing!
You love watching sharks — who doesn’t? But it’s hard to ignore the fact that the Discovery Channel has apparently run out of science, used up all of its hyperbole, and just started making stuff up.
Let’s face it. Shark Week has jumped… Well, it’s jumped itself.
But you still need your shark fix, right? Well, we at Grist are here to help. We’ve pulled together six of the best live shark cams from aquariums across the U.S. of A. It’s The People’s Shark Week!
1. National Aquarium in Baltimore: Blacktip Reef
The National Aquarium’s new Blacktip Reef exhibit includes a massive, realistically modeled pacific reef with an enormous 500-pound green sea turtle named Calypso, tassled wobegong sharks and, anticlimactically, blacktip reef sharks. Blacktip reef sharks aren’t that big, but they are one of the more shark-shaped sharks, making them pretty fun to watch and pretty scary to swim with. Though currently common in the Pacific, acidification and bleaching threatens their reefy homes.
Frightening Factoid: Blacktip reef sharks are capable of parthenogenesis and I should probably explain what that is. In 2008, DNA tests showed that a female blacktip had impregnated herself. Probably wise, as, lacking internet access, most sharks are woefully unprepared for modern online dating.
2. National Aquarium in Baltimore: Pacific Lagoon
OK, we’re double dipping at the National Aquarium, but this little exhibit is worth it. The Pacific Lagoon features gorgeous live anemones, freaky yellow sea cucumbers, and huge-headed wolf eels, along with both horn sharks and leopard sharks. While neither species is actively hunted, both are frequently guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and are threatened by bycatch from other fisheries.
Frightening Factoid: Should you see a delicious-looking horn shark in the wild, fight the urge to eat it alive and whole. Each of its two dorsal fins packs a venomous spine. (Venomous Spine, also the name of my first metal album.) Venom is rare in sharks, which is good — they’re already scary enough.
3. Cal Academy of Science: Shark Lagoon
Cal Academy’s shark lagoon actually features two cameras to go with its two species of sharks. The academy has the same blacktip reef sharks they’ve got in Baltimore, but throws in some bamboo sharks. Bamboo sharks may be tiny but… well, there really is no but. In rare instances, they reach 3 feet in length, but are generally much smaller, making them popular for home aquariums, a trate which is a serious threat to their wild populations.
Frightening Factoid: Bamboo sharks, which are actually made out of shark, not bamboo, have spiracles, gill-like openings behind their eyes that allow them to lie under the sand and breathe through the tops of their heads. They’re also pretty hardy and capable of living out of the water for up to 12 hours.
You can watch the action in the shark lagoon here.
4. The Aquarium of the Pacific: Shark Lagoon
Yes, the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, Cali., has a Shark Lagoon too. But this one swaps blacktip reef sharks for whitetip reef sharks AND throws in some zebra sharks. The stars, however, are undoubtedly the massive, toothy sand tiger sharks. The slow-moving sand tigers frequently reach lengths of over 10 feet and weights of up to 350 pounds, though unproven reports of much larger fish abound. The non-aggressive sharks are popular in aquariums partly due to their terrifying teeth, which give them a smile capable of terrifying British royalty. Sand tigers roam most of the world’s oceans but, due to over fishing and once popular, now illegal spearfishing, their numbers have dropped dramatically since the 1980s.
Frightening Factoid: Sand tigers may not be dangerous to swimmers, but they take sibling rivalry to horrifying new levels. Sand tigers were the first sharks documented engaging in intrauterine cannibalism. That’s right, unborn sand tigers eat their unfortunate brothers and sisters. This must lead to some awkward best-man toasts at shark weddings.
5. Georgia Aquarium: Ocean Voyager Cam
The Georgia Aquarium’s gihugic (A word coined, by me, exclusively to describe the Georgia aquarium’s insane 6.3 MILLION gallon tank. A tank so large it would take 6.3 MILLION 1 gallon milk jugs to fill) Ocean Voyager exhibit is home to four whale sharks, the largest fishes ever to swim the seas. This one is a must see. The gigantic fish could reach a length of 40 feet which is probably bigger than a school bus as all large animals seem to be measured against school buses. Though they have mouths 4 feet across, the gentle sharks eat mostly plankton and krill. (I should rephrase that last sentence. They aren’t terribly gentle if you are a plankton or a krill.)\Frightening Factoid: Whale sharks are believed to live as long as 150 years and the record for the most whale sharks to fit inside of a Volkswagen beetle is just one whale sharks.
Check out the scene in Georgia here.
6. Monterey Bay Aquarium: Monterey Bay Cam
Any list of shark cams that didn’t include a great white cam wouldn’t be a complete list of shark cams. No aquarium in the world has been able to successfully keep a great white, however, so this was tricky. Your best bet is this live shot from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. True, you probably won’t see a great white, but they’re there. Why do you think those sea lions look so worried?
Frightening Factoid: The Global Shark Tracker app has taught the world that great whites are in lots of places we never expected. They’re way out in the ocean. They’re right off your beach. Heck, there’s probably one in the backseat of your car.
Scary right? Well, maybe, but they didn’t just show up there. They’ve been there all along, you just never knew. And you know what? They left you the hell alone!
Maybe it’s time we do the same and give these poor fish a break. Stop freaking out, kick back, and enjoy some sharky action, no special effects required, from the comfort of your own couch.
The beautiful thing about pesto is that you can put almost any combination of greens and nuts into it and it will probably still taste pretty good. Does it taste even better if you forage for those greens and nuts yourself? Find out by watching our video above.
Also in this series:
California’s Gold Rush may have peaked more than a century ago, but thanks to the state’s ongoing three-year drought, the worst ever recorded in history, rivers are shrinking and panning for gold is becoming popular again.
In Gold Country cities like Auburn — just half an hour away from the very site where gold was first discovered in California in 1840 — sales of prospecting equipment are on the rise. One local retailer reports an uptick of 20 to 25 percent.
The drought allows prospectors to wade further upstream in shallower, drier rivers. That, coupled with the high price of gold and the weak economy, has an influx of panners flocking to riverbanks throughout the region, National Geographic reports:
From his office on the leafy campus of nearby California State University, Sacramento, hydrogeologist and geology department chair Tim Horner explained that prospectors … “have been able to get to places they couldn’t before” because the drought has shrunk many of the state’s rivers, “some down to a trickle.”
As an example, Horner mentioned that one of his students recently found about $900 worth of gold in a stream that had previously been too treacherous to explore.
More stream reaches are bound to open up as the drought continues, Homer predicts, though it’s anyone’s guess how much longer there will be any water left to pan.
OK, those are all pretty big issues. But there might be an even bigger one: The average person doesn’t care about them. Bring up the fact that the ocean sucks up about 22 million tons of CO2 a day at a backyard BBQ and chances are you’ll hear a big, resounding “meh.” As shown in Netflix’s splashy new documentary Mission Blue, which premieres Aug. 15, marine biologist Sylvia Earle has spent a lifetime trying to turn meh into action.
You’d be hard pressed to find someone who knows the ocean as well as Earle does. Now 78, she’s spent decades exploring and studying oceans all over the world. She’s designed submarines, held depth records, was the first woman to serve as chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and she’s now spent what adds up to at least 292 full days underwater (and she’s still going strong). Basically, she’s an all around badass — though she might not call herself that.
I first learned about Earle during my sophomore year of college, when I got to sail across the Pacific Ocean with SEA Semester, an undergrad program for oceanography buffs. Having grown up on California’s coast, I’d always felt a strong affection for the ocean (or at least a weird penchant for perusing tidepools in order to poke at gelatinous blobs). But, somewhere between trying not to throw up on myself while staring at phytoplankton through a microscope and nursing the infected tattoo I got in the Marquesas (YOLO?), I came to understand the difference between looking at the ocean in terms of what I saw from the shore, and seeing it. From the shore I understood the ocean as pretty scenery; over those five weeks at sea, I came to see it as a three-dimensional, complex being that you just become obsessed with knowing and grasping. In other words, I fell in love with it.Earle diving in a scene from Mission Blue
So, when I heard and read about Earle, she obviously became an instant hero. “Now that’s the kind of lady I’d like to be,” I thought. She knows what she loves and is fearless in standing up for it.
I’m psyched to have gotten the chance to talk with Earle and Robert Nixon, one of the directors of Mission Blue. Our conversation touched on connecting people to the ocean in the modern day, how to boldly follow your calling, and the glimmers of hope Earle finds coming out of a deep, dark place. Here’s an edited and condensed version of what Earle and Nixon had to say:
Q. Do you ever get frustrated at trying to make people care about something that’s still so vague and distant to so many of us?
A. Earle: I have struggled with this for most of my professional life, trying to get others to see what I have had the privilege of seeing. I think I’m encouraged with breakthroughs such as the development of Google Earth. Holding the world in your hands the way that you can with Google, it’s different than just looking at a flat map. And with the ocean in Google Earth, you can dive in and see what’s beneath the surface without getting wet. You can see things that our predecessors could not imagine. Kids today have access to this kind of visual insight.
You look at all the other creatures on Earth – and there are some that travel widely, like whales and dolphins and birds, and see a lot of the planet, more than many people do. But we can visualize the whole thing. And we’re the only ones in human history to be able to do this: It isn’t just that we’re humans, it’s because we’re humans in the 21st century, armed with unprecedented insight and opportunity to take all this knowledge that has been accumulating through all of previous time, and use it to our advantage in figuring out how do we behave ourselves so we don’t destroy the very systems that are keeping us alive.Netflix
Nixon: As a filmmaker, I’ve done many films on and under the ocean, but fully portraying how the ocean has changed is such a challenge, as Carl Safina says in the film, because the ocean still looks the same, the waves still look the same on the surface. The main challenge that [Mission Blue co-director Fisher Stevens] and I faced was how to engage the public. Because we didn’t want to preach to the converted, we wanted to show people that didn’t know. And that’s why Sylvia is such a precious resource herself, having been a witness to the change.
My interest has always been in the people side of things. Maybe I just don’t have the patience to like to film wildlife, but I’m much more interested in the human connection. It’s humans that got us into this mess, it’s humans that are going to get us out. Because there are people like Dr. Sylvia Earle who are out in front, it’s my goal in life to shine a light on them and give them a microphone.
Q. From the outside, it seems as if you’ve been able to accomplish so much of what you’ve done because it didn’t occur to you to hold yourself back. Were there any moments in which you weren’t sure that you were making the right choices?
A. Earle: It’s never really been a choice. From as long as I can remember, I’ve been driven to observe plants and animals and try to understand them. I didn’t know what it meant to be a biologist or an ecologist or whatever it is that I morphed into. I suppose it was just unconsciously making the choice to take whatever classes I could about the things I love. And I had the freedom to do that with parents who didn’t insist that I become a secretary or insist that I do something practical, even though I was warned that I probably could not make a living as a biologist. But they let me follow my heart. So I did. I am, still.
And yes, it’s still hard to make a living as a biologist. But the flip side is, you know, life is more important than making a living, I suppose. At least that’s the way I rationalized it.Netflix
Q. Robert, what parts of Sylvia’s character did you most want to bring out in Mission Blue?
A. Nixon: How brave she is and what a groundbreaker she’s always been in her life. The film talks a lot about her as a trailblazer as a woman pushing through these areas. But also just as a human being blazing the way to show us that we’re all one in the systems of the natural world. She was always ready to dive in.
Earle: But, you know, just look at a little kid. A little kid is absolutely fearless. I’ve seen my grandson at the age of two walk right in to the ocean. Shoes on, and no hesitation. Scientists are like little kids. Open minds, asking questions, curious about everything. Everything is a sense of wonder. And you want to show others, “Look, mom, there’s a beetle!” Not afraid, unless you teach them to be afraid. I guess scientists are like little kids who don’t show the fear you learn over time.
I don’t really think of some of the things I’ve done as brave or courageous, I just really want to know what’s going on! And it’s “let’s go, let’s jump in and find out.” I don’t think I’m so special. If I can do these things anybody can. I’m not superwoman, by any means. I’m just a little kid who forgot to grow up.
Nixon: And that’s really just been so much fun. We’ve had so much fun on this trip – it’s been exhausting trying to keep up with Sylvia. But it’s been quite an experience seeing the planet through her eyes.Netflix
Q. A lot of the film documents how the oceans have changed over Dr. Earle’s life. What were some of the biggest changes that you encountered while making the film?
A. Nixon: It was really powerful when we went to St. John, the site of the Tektite habitat where [Dr. Earle] lived underwater, and to go there and see that reef devastated. And then to go to the Coral Sea … that expedition was supposed to allow our cameraman to film the most beautiful untouched habitat.
Earle: We went there to find paradise, and we found paradise lost.
Nixon: It was just devastating to see that.
But then, going to Cabo Pulmo [which has been protected as of 1995] – that was thrilling. To dive in there and see how the world has rebounded.
Earle: It had rebounded, through protection. Reasons for hope – hope spots.
Q. Yeah! Mission Blue ends with your plan for a network of marine protected areas, which you call hope spots. How optimistic are you feeling that we’ll be able to make that into a reality?
A. Earle: I’m greatly encouraged. Actually, just these last few months there’s been significant progress. Like President Obama announcing his intent to establish an area bigger than all the national parks put together, which he brought up at the state department ocean conference in June.
And other nations are stepping up right now. About two years ago the U.K. protected the waters surrounding the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean. In the Pacific we’re seeing a lot of island nations realize they have jurisdiction over a lot of ocean – a little bit of land, but a lot of ocean. Just in the last few weeks, the president of Palau has reaffirmed what he said at a United Nations meeting in New York, that he intends to close all of his country’s exclusive economic zones to the industrial fishing that has taken a big bite out of the sharks, the tunas, and other ocean wildlife. So protecting our oceans is an idea that’s catching on. And I’m optimistic that once people see that it really works – like in Cabo Pulmo – it’s really going to begin to catch fire.
Mission Blue will be available on Netflix on Aug. 15. Watch the trailer:
Apple is upping its green game in a big way, thanks in no small part to former-EPA-chief-turned-Apple-exec Lisa Jackson. On Wednesday, the company announced an official ban of two toxins from its iPhone and iPad production lines, following a five-month-long “Bad Apple” campaign launched by China Labor Watch and Green America.
Benzene and n-hexane, used primarily to clean and polish electronics during the final stages of production, are known to cause a slew of negative health effects including leukemia and nerve damage. Activist groups harangued the company for its use of the chemicals until it conducted its own investigation of 22 of its plants.
Naturally, Apple’s internal probe found nothing of consequence (the use of the chemicals wasn’t widespread, it insists, and didn’t endanger a single worker; what little it did find fell well within the company’s existing safety standards). In true EPA style, though, Jackson and her team tightened the existing rules to explicitly prohibit the use of benzene and n-hexane in final assembly processes. Although the company will still use a tiny bit during the earlier stages of production, Apple, Jackson writes, “treats any allegations of unsafe working conditions extremely seriously.” Hmm.
From the AP:
“This is doing everything we can think of to do to crack down on chemical exposures and to be responsive to concerns,” Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environmental initiatives, said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We think it’s really important that we show some leadership and really look toward the future by trying to use greener chemistries.”
Hear, hear. And at least Apple has now released an actual list of the substances it regulates to the public, making world domination by iThings a little more transparent.
Texas has a complicated relationship with oil. On the one hand, it’s a state that’s really into private property. More than 95 percent of land in the Lone Star State is privately owned. On the other hand, Texas is really into oil — both digging it up and moving it around.
Basic physics suggests that, eventually, someone would want to move their oil through a space that belonged to someone who didn’t want it there. Lo, when the Keystone pipeline came on the scene, that came to pass in Texas. And how. Now, a new set of regulations under works at an obscure state commission could have big implications for eminent domain and future pipeline battles in the Lone Star State.
Today, it’s easier to build a pipeline through Texas than it is to build just about anything else. If you want to use eminent domain to string power lines through someone’s property, you have to give them prior notification and hold public hearings about it. If you want to build a pipeline, the process is a lot simpler: You fill out a one-page form. If you put an “x” in the box that says that you’ll be building a “common carrier” pipeline — one that will pipe crude for anyone who has the money, without discriminating between clients — then you are automatically granted power of eminent domain.
There is no notice of public hearing, and no advance notice given that you’re trying to get eminent domain to the people whose property you’ll be cutting across. There’s no need even to prove that you’re a common carrier — a 2011 Texas Supreme Court decision noted that the Texas Railroad Commission did not appear to have ever denied anyone a permit.
If a property owner does sue to stop your pipeline, you can start building it while the case works its way through the courts. KXL South (a.k.a. the Gulf Coast Pipeline) began pumping crude earlier this year, even as the cases challenging its right to make off with private property were still in court.
Eminent domain has been a key issue in every state with pipeline drama. In Nebraska, the struggle against Keystone XL led to a new law: the Major Oil Pipeline Siting Act (a.k.a. LB1, or MOPSA), which added public hearings and the requirement that a company prove that its pipeline will serve the public interest to the approval process. It’s taken judicial support to keep MOPSA relevant, though — a legislative power grab back in 2103 could have done the whole thing in.
Texas hasn’t been so lucky. On the judicial side, lawsuits have raised the amount of compensation that landowners are given, but they haven’t blocked the eminent domain principle itself. On the legislative side, bills that would have changed things keep getting scuttled — partly due to power struggles between the pipeline-owning Koch brothers and the landowning, property-rights obsessed Bass brothers.
By session’s end, none of the bills had bridged the divide. And the reason goes back to the role of the courts. As James Mann pointed out, pipelines want to ensure they can’t be sued by every landowner along a route. They want one determination to take land and then to carry on building pipelines.
“No sane person wants serial litigation,” Mann told StateImpact Texas. “Well, I take that back. Certainly lawyers benefit from serial litigation,” he added dryly.
But many landowner groups say the right to challenge pipelines at the county courthouse, a right that landowners have always had, was exactly the thing they would not give up.
“They never came up with anything at the Railroad Commission that was better than the local courthouse for the affected landowners.”
Under the new rules being developed in Texas by the Railroad Commission, pipeline operators will need to submit a sworn statement that they are common carriers — just checking a box will no longer do. They’ll need to have documents on hand to back that up, if the commission requests them during the 45-day review period.
Is this better than nothing? Sure. Is it pretty weak? Looks that way. Under the new rules, property owners still won’t get any notification of an impending eminent domain move. Even if they do, there’s no built-in process that would allow them to introduce any relevant information (such as: this pipeline is going over my water supply) during the approval process. Odds are good that those affected landowners are still going to be headed for the federal courthouse.
These changes aren’t yet set in stone. The Railroad Commission is accepting public comment on them until Aug. 25. Since the only reason the changes are being considered at all is that Texans like Julia Trigg Crawford put up a fight against the Keystone XL pipeline, those same Texans just might get those rules changed into something more sensible.
I’m taking a one-post hiatus from the food beat to write about high-speed rail. I love geeking out over transportation. I love to draw imaginary maps, play with imaginary subway systems, and to figure out clever routes and tricks for getting more gracefully from A to B. Nonetheless, I — like many Californians — have gotten less and less enthusiastic about California’s high-speed rail project as the years have passed.
Because of all that, I’ve been avidly reading James Fallows’ series on California’s high-speed rail in the Atlantic. He’s done a fantastic job of outlining the issues, and has given voice to critiques of the project from all angles. Fallows started out thinking the rail line was basically a good idea, and it seems he’s become more convinced over the course of his reporting.
As Fallows told Valley Public Radio, “If California does not do this and there are another 10 or 15 million people there over the next generation, the other ways of dealing with the transportation problem, whether it’s more roads or just the cost of congestion or more airports or whatever, will be more destructive as far as I can tell than going ahead with the rail project.”
I’m not going to debate the merits of the project here — Fallows has that covered. But I want to air a question that I first encountered while covering high-speed rail during a brief stint as a transportation reporter, and that has only grown more pressing in the time since: Why do big infrastructure projects always seem to cost more, and deliver less, than promised?
Investment in infrastructure is usually good for countries. I’m not just talking about sexy trains to take fossil-fuel-guzzling airplanes out of the air. There are even more obvious things, like fixing bridges before they fall down, or fixing roads before the cost of repairs triples, or fixing gas pipes before they leak tons of potent greenhouse gas and, erm, blow up.
The U.S. is like a penny-wise, pound-foolish homeowner, saving money by putting off roof repairs even though water is leaking into the attic and rotting the frame. And yet even people like me, who understand the importance of infrastructure, begin to worry after watching enough big government projects go wildly over budget. It begins to look like the government is incompetent or corrupt. And so, even in my big-government blue state, less than half the likely voters support the high-speed rail project.
What’s going on? Government megaprojects aren’t actually any more prone to corruption or incompetence than any other kind of megaprojects. But the debates around them are more likely to be packed with exaggerations, fudgery, and outright lies. Because we are so reluctant to support infrastructure in this country, there’s an incentive to tell voters a project will cost less — and do more — than is reasonable.
The guy with the unpronounceable name
Does it just seem like all the big projects go over budget? Maybe those are the only ones we hear about? Nope. Oxford professor Bent Flyvbjerg decided to check, and found that, worldwide, public-sector megaprojects go over budget 90 percent of the time.
Optimism bias is part of the problem: People generally see the world through rose-colored glasses. We don’t expect things to go wrong as often as they do. (If we did, we’d never get out of bed in the morning — in fact, a realistic vision of reality is one symptom of depression.) But this isn’t an intractable problem because there are ways of adjusting estimates to control for optimism bias.
Strategic misrepresentation is the other part of the problem: That’s Flyvbjerg’s term, and it’s a polite way of saying “lying.” If you are in competition for federal money, or if you need to win a vote to get a bond approved, you’re going to want to show a healthy cost-benefit ratio on paper. Robert Caro, in the Power Broker, showed how Robert Moses used this strategy to great effect to get projects started, only to go back and ask for more money: Once construction begins, no one wants to abandon the sunk costs. Of course, this dynamic often asserts itself in all kinds of projects, including those in the private sector, but it’s the public examples that are most visible.
“Strategic misrepresentation” is a rational approach to getting a single project funded. In fact, it may be the only way to get a project funded in a country where the citizens have so little interest in paying for infrastructure. But it’s a terrible way of funding many projects over time, because every time it is used, it erodes the public trust. As voters grow more suspicious, the imperative to lie just a tiny bit (to hire the planning contractor that will give you the numbers you need) grows stronger. We’re deeper into the whirlpool with every cycle.
Getting it right means stepping on toes
If you pay attention to the controversies surrounding these projects, it looks like the government isn’t paying enough attention to the concerns of locals. I think that’s wrong: Generally speaking, these projects are guided too much by the concerns of the people who live nearby. With high-speed rail, I’m sympathetic to the local landowners: The new rails will cause massive unwanted changes for the farmers along the path, for instance. But I think that in the U.S. we spend so much energy making sure we do right by individuals that we shortchange the good of the commonwealth.
Here’s an example told to me by Metropolitan Transportation Commission PR man Randy Rentschler: If you have a chance to ride BART in Oakland between the Lake Merritt and 12th Street stations, you’ll notice the train slows to a crawl to make two turns, first one way and then the other. The train makes these turns to avoid the vestigial outlines of a hardware store whose owner didn’t want the subway running under him. The store closed before BART opened — but all the riders since have lost a little bit of their lives to that dispute.
We shouldn’t go so far as the Chinese, bulldozing first and asking questions later; but we’d be better off moving one tick in that direction. The long-term good of the many outweighs the good of the few.
What are the solutions?
Flyvbjerg has proposed a suite of reasonable fixes. Here’s just one example: Planning forecasts are usually done by contractors, and if it turns out their estimates were wildly incorrect, they should have to refund the fee the government paid them. That’s a nifty trick, eh?
The media has long been part of the problem, but we could also be part of the solution. We delight in stoking outrage by pointing out how much things cost, even when it’s totally incorrect, as Mike Grunwald recently pointed out. But it’s much less exciting to publish a story on how it will cost way more to repair a road if we wait five years than if we do it now. Grunwald is (along with Fallows) also a model for doing it right. His book The New New Deal entertainingly explains the importance of investing in infrastructure.
See that? Entertaining and infrastructure can go in the same sentence without spontaneous combustion. Sure, scandal is always going to be more exciting, but I believe there is a genuine hunger out there for good writing that helps people understand the issues crucial to running their democracy.
And finally, you, or us, we the people, need to take a deep breath. Just about the only way to build infrastructure in this country is via deceit, but that’s only because we’ve been unwilling to pay for common goods. The less we trust, the more civil servants are pressured to lie. But we can turn this around: If we trust more, the government will have to lie less.
Further reading (or listening)
Most of the background for this comes from a radio piece I did, including an interview with Bent Flyvbjerg, called The Planning Problem.
And here (once again) is Fallows’ stellar series.
Bali is an undeniably sexy place, and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise should not be trusted on any matter. Everything is lush, steamy, and fragrant. The primary activity for the vast majority of those visiting the island is basking in the sun in varying states of nudity. In full disclosure, I spent a significant portion of my time there in a state of deep regret that I wasn’t there with a guy. (Shout out to my seat partner on the flight from Seattle to Seoul, with whom I had the following exchange: “Oh, you’re headed to Bali? What for?” “I’m going for work.” “Isn’t that where everyone goes on their honeymoon?” “… Yep.”)
It’s a place where physicality is almost always on the brain — which is why it almost makes perfect sense to host the first Summit on Women and Climate, a collaboration between Global Greengrants, the Greengrants Alliance of Funds, and the International Network of Women’s Funds. But I’m aware that the connection there is not readily apparent to everyone, as noted in an exchange with a French denizen of Tinder (downloaded for research purposes only, of course):
Women’s bodies, however, are smack on the front lines of combat against climate change. This is what we know: Climate change is going to fuck everyone over, but it will especially fuck those who are already socially and economically disadvantaged, because it’s just that kind of adversary! And for indigenous women — particularly in developing countries — threats to their environments constitute direct attacks on their physical, social, and economic health.
“For indigenous women, the relationship with the environment is very important – it has such a high impact on [their] lives,” says Mariana Lopez, program coordinator for the International Indigenous Women’s Forum. “They have a very close relationship with the cycles of nature. But with climate change altering those patterns — well, when nature is unpredictable, it’s very disruptive to their lives.”
In terms of environmental threats, it’s hard to get more daunting than the relentless increase of global temperatures. Here’s the other thing about climate change: In many places it’s already gone from threat to reality. And in those places, women are suffering the impacts of that reality moreso than their male counterparts for a variety of complex reasons I’ll get into later. Furthermore, their lack of a voice in decision-making processes is guaranteed to only compound that suffering.
The need for women’s voices to be heard becomes most vividly apparent when considering the fact that indigenous women are struggling to protect and retain control of the very natural resources that they depend on — which are directly threatened by climate change.
“We are seeing a sort of ecological violence that highly affects indigenous women,” Lopez tells me. “The damage that corporations are inflicting on natural resources have an impact on the life of indigenous women — a very, very direct impact. We see a lot of sexual and reproductive health problems specific to indigenous women — and not men — that are linked to pesticides, toxins, contamination of water. If environmental rights are not guaranteed, the human rights of indigenous women are not going to be guaranteed, either.”
I may talk a lot of game about dealing with climate change as a woman. But as a white, city-dwelling American, I almost never have to confront its effects in my daily life (at least for now). So if you’d like to hear war stories, I’m really not the one to ask.
Instead, ask Ursula Rakova, executive director of Tulele Peisa, who is in the process of relocating her entire community from the Papua New Guinean island of Tulun to the nearby island of Bougainville. Why would someone go to all that trouble? Because Tulun is slowly disappearing into the sea. Oh.Eve AndrewsUrsula Rakova.
Rakova, like many other of the summit delegates, occupies an important role. As a woman in her community, she is primarily responsible for every aspect of food provision: farming, fishing, foraging, preparation. Because Tulun has been slowly eaten away by an invading ocean, the arable land is gone; the soil has been soaked in salt water. Nothing will grow except rice, which is not part of the traditional diet. The traditional staple of taro has died off from Tulun completely.
“Women are now being forced to do more physical work because they’ve got to find food,” she tells me. “And when they find the little food that they can, they give it to their children. They go without food almost every day. It is the women on the island who are suffering more of the impact [of climate change] than anyone else.”
Nearly 40 years ago, the Tulun community noticed that the ocean began to eat away at the shores of the island.
“We knew that something was happening to the island,” she says. “Although we did not really understand the science of climate change, we could see before our eyes that the islands were getting smaller, and the storms were more frequent, the king tides were frequent.”
In the early 1990s, experts began to visit Tulun to study what was happening to the island, and explained to Rakova and her community that they were being directly affected by rising sea levels. “That was when we started to read about what was causing climate change,” she says. “And then we started to realize: We are victims of something we have not created – of some other people’s doing.” She pauses and then adds: “But then we also know we cannot blame anybody. It’s a global issue, and everyone has to make an effort to solve that issue.”
Mama Aleta Baun and I are sitting opposite each other in an enormous bamboo hall on the grounds of the summit. It’s about 95 degrees and humid, and through a heavy heat-and-jetlag haze I’m trying to register some facial responses to what she’s saying — however, because she’s speaking in Indonesian through an interpreter, everything is on a 30-second delay. She is very calmly describing the physical attacks that she’s endured in the name of defending her community’s lands against a mining company’s interests. I’ve seldom felt so out of my element.
“According to Timorese philosophy, the Earth is considered our mother,” Baun tells me. She was awarded the Goldman Prize in 2013 for her work in blocking a mining development in West Timor that would contaminate her people’s water supply. “The soil represents the body, the water is the blood, the rocks are the bones, and the forests are the air. When one of these elements is destroyed, it creates an imbalance in the Earth.”
For the average young cynical westerner (hi!), the “Mother Earth” trope has essentially become a punch line — a standby in the vernacular of the outdated and clueless. But the concept carries renewed gravity coming from a woman who has faced rape and death threats, public beatings, and even an assassination attempt by machete, all in the name of protecting the natural resources of her community.
“There is no difference between fighting for women’s rights and fighting for environmental protection,” says Baun. “They are equal.”
I asked many of the delegates the same question: What role does the natural environment play in the daily lives of women in your community? Each time, the question was met with the kind of side-eye that transcends spoken language to say: Do you really need me to explain something so basic? For each of these women, natural elements — forests, rivers, oceans — form such inextricable components of their health and livelihoods that to explain how they are seems an exercise in stating the obvious.
But for those of us who look no further than Whole Foods for our next meal (hi again!), this relationship is not necessarily that easy to conceptualize. When I asked this of Suryamani Kumari Bagat, who is fighting for the land rights of the indigenous peoples in India’s Jharkhand Forest, she all but laughed at me.Eve AndrewsSuryamani Kumari Bagat is defending her community’s right to control the Jharkhand Forest, which they call home.
“The relationship? It’s like your heart and soul are connected with the forest,” she says. “A woman’s entire day is spent in the forest, and for many things … but it’s mostly about food and survival. And if we don’t eat food, how will we live?”
Bagat told me how women in her community have already noted irregularities in the forest cycles over the last five years. Leaves don’t fall when they’re supposed to. Migrating birds are showing up at odd times. Periods of drought have become far more frequent.
I asked her whether these changing patterns made her and her community anxious for the health and longevity of the forest. Again, she laughed at me. For Bagat, climate change may be a persistent worry, but the more immediate threat lies with the mining companies that are determinedly encroaching on her lands.
“Our fear is that [mining companies] will come and take the land away,” she explains. “The government is giving away the land to these companies as if it’s their own father’s land, but it’s not – the land is ours. And the mining will ruin the forest, our culture, our life, our livelihoods. So that is the biggest fear: how will the mining ruin the natural surroundings. Our whole life would be finished.”
There’s a lot of talk about the role that indigenous peoples’ protection of resources — specifically forests — can play in mitigating climate change, including a report released just last month by the World Resources Institute. As Lorena Aguilar, senior advisor for the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Gender Program, explained at the summit this week: “Indigenous women are implementing actions to adapt to and mitigate climate change, because they’re aware of how to manage natural resources and ecosystems.”
Fair. But in talking with these women, these actions might not be with the express goal of mitigating climate change. Rather, they’re reclaiming and protecting what’s rightfully theirs — not just as a matter of rights, but as a matter of survival.
Says Bagat: “If we have ownership of the resources of the forest, then the right to life is ensured.”
Bertha Cáceres is the general coordinator of COPINH, an organization that has been fighting for control of indigenous lands for the Lenca people of Honduras for more than 20 years. Just last fall, COPINH defeated a hydroelectric dam that had been illegally installed by the Honduran corporation DESA in the Gualcarque River. “It’s a place of very potent spiritual and cultural meaning for the Lenca people,” says Cáceres.
“We’re not just fighting for the forests, the Earth, our lands,” she explains. “We consider the defense of issues of land, sovereignty, and independence to be the same as defending our rights as women. We’re demanding control over our lands just as we demand control over our bodies.”Eve AndrewsFor her efforts to block a hydroelectric plant on a river sacred to her community, Bertha Cáceres has been relentlessly persecuted and threatened by the Honduran government.
As a result of her work, Cáceres says she and her colleagues (who are both men and women) have been the target of armed assault, death threats, rape threats, and highly orchestrated smear campaigns involving falsified Twitter and Facebook accounts. These aren’t only perpetrated by DESA, but also from the Honduran government, which has supported a slew of extractive industries in the country for decades. The government has actively refused to recognize the illegality and illegitimacy of building hydroelectric dam projects – and there are 17 more in the works – on indigenous lands.
I asked Cáceres if she feels that her position as a woman makes these attacks more extreme. “I’m absolutely convinced that if I were a man, this level of aggression wouldn’t be so violent,” she said. “There are always campaigns against leaders, but when we are women leading … this fight defending nature as a public good, and also reclaiming our right to sovereignty over our bodies, thoughts, and political ideals, our cultural and spiritual rights, of course the aggression is much greater.”
As we’ve seen, indigenous women tend to be excluded from the policymaking conversation around protecting natural resources in a warming and increasingly overcrowded planet. For a concrete example of that irony, just ask Ursula Rakova what she thinks the biggest obstacle to her mission of moving her community from Tulun to Bougainville will be.
“[It] is the lack of recognition by the Papua New Guinea government and Bougainville government,” she says. “They have got to realize that this is happening, that they are responsible for supporting [relocating the community.] They cannot continue to work on the policy, they cannot continue to talk about planning, when people are already suffering.”
A small sliver of hope: This September, the United Nations will host its first ever World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, bringing together organizations and community leaders from around the world. Mariana Lopez tells me that one of the main points of discussion will be the issue of environmental violence against indigenous women, and also how they can participate in political processes to combat it. In an astounding failing of bureaucracy, however, it just happens to be taking place on the exact same day — in the same building, no less — as Ban Ki-Moon’s Climate Summit.
“I don’t know whether it’s funny or sad,” says Lopez. “But it’s not very good for indigenous peoples. The high-level government delegates are going to go to the Climate Summit, so the World Conference will have less visibility. It’s a joke, because we spent so many years pushing for the World Conference, and this will be the first time [that it’s happening.]”
An enormous, sloth-paced international organization made some questionable scheduling decisions and ended up screwing over an underprivileged group. No surprises there! But it does make for a fairly stark metaphor of indigenous women’s role in the global climate change conversation: closed off from a discussion amongst high-profile political figures about a global force that will completely and inevitably impact their lives.
When I asked Bertha Cáceres how she considers the role that women — particularly indigenous women — will play in fighting climate change, this was her response:
“We have to change the system, not the climate, right? I think that we, as women, are in a very important moment right now, politically and historically speaking. Now is the era of women.”
For the sake of the planet, let’s hope so!