Fan The Flames
March 2, 2021
The Good News
- 10% of U.S. Adult Population Fully Vaccinated for COVID-19 (US News)
- When technology saves lives: Why this teen set up a prize-winning fake cosmetics shop (BBC)
“Perhaps he knew, as I did not, that the Earth was made round so that we would not see too far down the road.” — Isak Dinesen (aka Karen Blixen)
“The best way to keep something bad from happening is to see it ahead of time… and you can’t see it if you refuse to face the possibility.” — William S. Burroughs
“Forethought we may have, undoubtedly, but not foresight.” — Napoleon Bonaparte
On Climate Crises, Gas Industry Fans The Flames
(Joe Raedle via Getty Images)
The planet continues warming from greenhouse gas emissions, and Texas still reels from colossal consequences of deregulating its power grid. But it’ll be a cold day in hell before the Lone Star State’s fossil fuel industry knuckles under to ambitious efforts to fight climate change, much less embrace remedies to keep people safer from deadly power outages.
In an effort to reduce the city’s carbon footprint and downsize the use of fossil fuels, leaders in Austin had drafted a plan calling for the elimination of gas use in new buildings by 2030 and existing ones by 2040. Homes and businesses would have to run on electricity and stop using gas for heat, hot water, and stoves.
The plan would be impactful. Texas burns far more gas than any other state, almost 15% of the US total. Gas is cheap and affordability is a major concern in Austin, where families of color continue to get priced out of the fast-growing city. But the EPA says gas burned in buildings causes 12% of US climate pollution. And burning gas indoors exposes people to dangerous pollutants linked to heart attacks, respiratory disease, and asthma. Children in homes with gas stoves are 42% more likely to have asthma than children in homes with electric stoves.
Most Austinites prefer to have better options than just gas, like more affordable solar panels. However, when Austin’s local gas company, Texas Gas Service (TGS), got wind of the city’s endeavor, it pounced. TGS immediately came up with line-by-line, euphemistic revisions to weaken the plan while lobbying customers and city officials to oppose it. TGS struck references to “electrification,” replacing them with “decarbonization” — a policy that wouldn’t rule out gas. It replaced “electric vehicles” with “alternative fuel vehicles” which could run on compressed natural gas. It also offered to help the city to plant more trees to absorb climate pollution and to explore technologies to pull carbon dioxide out of the air — both of which might help it to keep burning gas.
After February’s freak winter storm caused devastating power outages in Texas, Republican Governor Greg Abbott tried blaming renewable energy sources. But gas power plants dominate the Texas grid, providing 47% of the state’s electricity and supplying more than a third of households with heat. Many of those plants and the natural gas pipelines leading to them failed in the cold conditions. And those massive bills utilities faced from their gas suppliers? Simply passed on to customers. The CEO of a gas company owned by billionaire Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones described the industry’s windfall as “hitting the jackpot.”
So far TGS’s strategy is working. Austin’s most recent draft climate plan gives the company much more time to sell gas to existing customers, and allows it to offset climate emissions instead of eliminating them. Texas Republican lawmakers have introduced two bills that would prohibit local governments from banning gas connections.
The gas industry is using the same playbook to fight city climate plans around the country — with support from Republican politicians. In 2020, Arizona, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Tennessee prohibited local governments from banning gas connections, and another 12 states will consider similar legislation this year. (Guardian)
China Takes A Byte Of The Crypto Market
(Costfoto via Getty Images)
- Several countries’ world banks are trying out new forms of digital money, which can move faster and give disadvantaged people access to online financial tools. The effort is a bold move to remake the way government-backed money works. In the past year more than 60 nations, including Sweden and the Bahamas, have experimented with national digital currencies, up from 40 the year before
- But China is outpacing everyone. In 2020, the electronic yuan, eCNY, was tested in four cities. The People’s Bank of China has now expanded trials to major cities like Shenzhen, Shanghai, and Beijing, perhaps anticipating having it ready for tourists coming to the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.
- China began developing a national digital currency in 2014 shortly after Bitcoin gained attention in the country. An article last September in China Finance claimed: “The right to issue and control digital currencies will become a ‘new battlefield’ of competition between sovereign states,” one that China clearly expects to win. By contrast, the US hasn’t moved beyond doing some basic research. (NYT, $)
Progress On Nuclear Talks Decaying Faster Than U-235
- The US and the EU want to restart talks with Iran about reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, whose formal name is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. The deal had required Iran to curtail its nuclear program in exchange for a gradual easing of international sanctions.
- Former President Trump withdrew the US from the JCPOA in 2018 and reimposed sanctions, after which Iran stepped up its nuclear work in violation of the pact. Iran and President Biden’s new administration are in a stalemate over who should take the first step to revive the accord.
- Iran insists the US must first lift sanctions, while Washington says Tehran must first return to compliance with the deal. The US responded to Iran’s declining to restart informal talks by saying it was “disappointed” but remained “ready to reengage in meaningful diplomacy to achieve a mutual return to compliance with JCPOA commitments.” (Al Jazeera)
Additional World News
- China Appears to Warn India: Push Too Hard and the Lights Could Go Out (NYT, $)
- El Salvador midterm election: Bukele gains legislative assembly supermajority (WaPo, $)
- Dozens of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists charged under national security law (WaPo, $)
- Yemen donor conference seeks billions to prevent famine (Al Jazeera). They plan to raise money with Yemen aid stands.
- Nicolas Sarkozy, Former French President, Convicted Of Corruption (NPR)
- Russia Sends Navalny to Notorious Penal Camp Feared by Inmates (Bloomberg)
- Biden can help end Yemen civil war by backing referendum, say separatists (Guardian)
- Netanyahu accuses Iran of attacking Israeli-owned cargo ship (AP) & Iran ‘strongly rejects’ Israeli accusation it attacked ship (Al Jazeera). Like an old married couple, those two.
- African-American Sacrifice in the Killing Fields of France (NYT, $)
- An American success story is lost in Myanmar’s coup (WaPo, $)
Voting On Who Gets To Vote
- Congress began debate this week on sweeping voting and ethics legislation introduced by House Democrats. The 791-page bill touches on virtually every aspect of the electoral process: striking down hurdles to voting erected in the name of security, curbing partisan gerrymandering, and curtailing the influence of big money in politics.
- Republican-controlled state legislatures have been hard at work doing the exact opposite: introducing legislation to formulate secure Republican districts and limit easy ballot access, primarily to impede a higher turnout of minority voters who might favor Democratic candidates.
- The Roberts Supreme Court has steadily eviscerated protections put in place by the 1965 Voting Rights Act and its subsequent amendments, and Democrats see the proposed legislation — aiming to protect access to the ballot — as a foundational principle of American democracy.
- Republicans say the bill is an unwarranted federal intrusion into a process that states should control. What they really mean is it would sound the death knell for most Republican candidates. (AP)
Chicago Activists Hungry For Change
- On February 4th, three community activists on Chicago’s Southeast Side began a hunger strike to protest the city’s decision to allow a metal shredder to move into the East Side, a low-income Latino community already reeling from the effects of industrial pollution. Since then, eight others, including an elected city official, have joined the hunger strike.
- The city had given a green light to a metal recycling company with numerous EPA violations, allowing it to begin operations in the minority community after complaints had caused the company to close a similar scrap yard on Chicago’s predominantly white, affluent North Side. Particulate matter that typically emanates from these facilities can cause severe respiratory and cardiovascular conditions.
- The activists have gone almost four weeks without food to protest what they say is environmental racism, and their efforts are beginning to show results. The city may be reconsidering its decision to let the metal shredder move in. (Guardian)
Additional USA News
- Thousands of Farmworkers Are Prioritized for the Coronavirus Vaccine (NYT, $)
- Biden Backs Amazon Warehouse Workers’ Union Drive (NPR)
- Democrats Bail on Backup Plan for $15 Minimum Wage As Part of Biden Stimulus (Intelligencer)
- Joe Biden says his hands are tied on a $15 minimum wage. That’s not true (Guardian)
- How Deb Haaland’s confirmation bid became a ‘proxy fight’ over fossil fuels (Guardian)
- Some GOP state lawmakers help spread COVID-19 misinformation (AP)
- AG sues Texas utility over customers’ sky-high energy bills (AP)
- Where Have All the Houses Gone? (NYT, $)
- Why Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot Covid-19 vaccine is a game changer (Vox)
- How Inequity Gets Built Into America’s Vaccination System (ProPublica)
Innovative Fishing Company Hoping to Net Big Profits
- Dartmouth-trained engineer Marty Odlin comes from a long line of Maine fishermen. His uncle, Rob Odlin, is a boat captain who used to extract boatloads of fish from the Gulf of Maine. Marty always thought he would continue his ancestors’ seafaring careers, but when the warming climate drove major shifts in fish populations, and regulators put a lid on how much could be taken from the sea, Marty thought he’d better carry on the family tradition in a different way — as a marine-kelpfarmer-reverse-engineer.
- In thinking about how to stop the damage in the Gulf of Maine, one of the fastest-warming bodies of water on the planet, Marty concluded that “what we have to do is run the oil industry in reverse,” — mimic the natural processes that turned ancient plants into carbon-storing fossil fuels, but vice versa. The fossil fuels we burn for energy started out as plants millions of years ago. Much of it was ocean algae that sank to the bottom of ancient seas, where chemistry and water pressure transformed it into oil, over geologic timescales.
- Marine plants like mangroves and seagrasses are called “blue carbon” ecosystems because they can absorb and store up to 20 times more CO2 per acre from the atmosphere than land-based forests. As marine plants grow and die, their leaves, roots, stems, and branches wind up buried in underwater low-oxygen sediments that can store carbon for decades or longer. Seaweeds like kelp, by dying and drifting down to the deep sea, may sequester more carbon than all other marine plants combined.
- Voila! Marty is now CEO of Portland startup Running Tide Technologies (RTT), which aims to pull carbon out of the air by growing massive amounts of kelp in individual kelp microfarms floating hundreds of miles offshore over the deepest parts of the world’s oceans. The kelp will then be sunk to the bottom of the sea, where it will sequester carbon for thousands of years.
- RTT is drawing attention from scientists and venture capitalists alike, the latter having already invested millions in the company, which is prototyping the concept this winter. Uncle Rob says the task itself isn’t much different from any other in his seafaring career, whether chasing tuna or harvesting lobster. “We’re just fishing for carbon now, and kelp’s the net.” (NPR)
- Sheriff’s office offers Valentine’s Day ‘special’ for exes (AP)
- Proton’s Antimatter Revealed by Decades-Old Experiment (Wired)
- Hackers Tied to Russia’s GRU Targeted the US Grid for Years (ArsTechnica)
- A ‘Lamborghini’ Of Chariots Is Discovered At Pompeii. Archaeologists Are Wowed (NPR)
- Warnings From the Queer History of Modern Internet Regulation (Wired)
- Archival Shipping Records Help Prepare For Rising Seas (NPR)
- Wind power company vows to help save critically endangered California condor (Guardian)
- Digidog, a Robotic Dog Used by the Police, Stirs Privacy Concerns (NYT, $). Maybe the police have a bit too much money on their hands…
- 2 skiers defy death in descent of Yosemite’s Half Dome (AP)
- Here are some of the best moments from the Golden Globes (NBC)
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