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Calls for law firm to #DropExxon go national with law student boycott

What started as a single protest against the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP by law students from Harvard University last month is now growing into a movement.

During a recruitment event in New Haven, Connecticut on Thursday night for Yale Law students, 40 protestors unveiled a “#DROPEXXON” banner and began to chant at the other students and Paul, Weiss partners mingling with glasses of wine and cocktails at the bar.

“You heard it from students at Harvard, and now you’ll hear it from us,” they shouted in a call-and-response speech. “We will not work for you as long as you work for ExxonMobil. Our future is on fire and you are fanning the flames.”

Paul, Weiss recently helped ExxonMobil win a case brought by the New York district attorney alleging that the company misled investors about the costs of climate change to its business. The firm is also representing Exxon in a similar case in Massachusetts, as well as other climate cases brought by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland, California and Baltimore, Maryland. In those cases, the cities are seeking damages from multiple fossil fuel companies to pay for impacts of climate change they are already experiencing and to fund adaptation measures.

The action at the Yale reception went on for just over 10 minutes before the students pointedly filed out and left the reception. “I think it went well,” Tim Hirschel-Burns, one of the organizers, told Grist. “It is discouraging that the partners from Paul, Weiss continue to not take the climate crisis seriously, but law students certainly are, and I think they’re going to continue seeing that students are not going to accept their indifference.”

Now Harvard and Yale law students are working together to build momentum and start a larger movement. After Thursday’s protest, the coalition launched a #DropExxon pledge that asks law students around the country to refuse to interview with or work for Paul, Weiss until it drops ExxonMobil as its client. Organizers of the pledge said that students at other schools are planning additional protests.

In a press release, Yale students involved with the protest pointed out that Paul, Weiss claims that it does not “sacrifice culture and values in favor of the bottom line,” and that it has a commitment “to serve the broader public interest.” They argued that the firm cannot live up to these values while helping Exxon, citing investigative reporting that found that the company has known the dangers of climate change since the 1970s but chose to fund climate denial to protect its business.

Paul, Weiss did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

An age-old ethical dilemma

The movement raises questions about the role of lawyers in society and the right to equal representation before the law. In Harvard’s newspaper, the Crimson, Harvard student Andrew Liang wrote, “In providing such representation, Paul, Weiss is not defending climate change. It is defending the law. The legal profession does not exist to pass moral judgment on a client, but to uphold the process.”

Organizers at Yale told Grist that they are not disputing that people and companies deserve representation but said that doesn’t mean the firm does not have a choice in whom it represents. “Paul, Weiss has no shortage of paying clients to choose from, but is giving priority to a company that is sabotaging humanity’s chance to address climate change,” Yale Law School student Ify Chikezie said in a press release.

Charles Nesson, a professor at Harvard Law School, said that these are questions students need to think through as they move ahead in the profession. “A lot of students face this problem of going off into law firms and making money to pay off their student debts and finding that they’re doing work that may not be completely savory as far as the climate is concerned or justice is concerned,” said Nesson. “The amount of acceptance within the profession of legal tactics that produce unjust results is considerable.”

Nesson recently had students discuss the protest against Paul, Weiss in a class called Ideal Discourse. He said that most of his class approved of the protest, but brought up concerns about whether the action would be effective, whether it would hurt the protesters’ careers, and why they were targeting Paul, Weiss over other firms. In an online class discussion board for the class, one student wrote, “This discussion about how we square our principles with our professional roles is so important and for a lot of us, hard.”

Divestment campaigns ramp up

Outside of the law schools, others in the Harvard and Yale communities made strides last week in their campaigns to get the two universities to divest their endowments from fossil fuel companies.

On Tuesday, Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences passed a motion, 179 to 20, to call on the Harvard Management Company, the school’s endowment gatekeepers, to divest from companies that “explore for or develop further reserves of fossil fuels.” An online petition started by a group called Harvard Faculty for Divestment now had almost 1,000 signatures as of Friday. While the faculty vote has no direct influence on the endowment, University President Lawrence Bacow said he would bring the motion to the school’s governing body for consideration.

The faculty vote follows another successful campaign by Harvard alumni to nominate five candidates who will support divestment for election to the Board of Overseers, which has the power to approve who is on the board that manages the school’s endowment.

At Yale, the undergraduate student government voted unanimously on January 25 to become a part of the Yale Endowment Justice Coalition and support the group’s mission to get the school to cancel its holdings in Puerto Rican debt and divest from fossil fuel companies.

Outside of the Ivy League, Georgetown University’s president announced on Thursday that the school’s board of directors has decided to divest its holdings in fossil fuel companies.

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Calls for law firm to #DropExxon go national with law student boycott

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Which cities have concrete strategies for environmental justice?

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

Just as it is now, Fifth Avenue has long been home to expensive shops drawing not only wealthy New Yorkers, but moneyed visitors. In 1916, when the shop merchants in the Fifth Avenue Association voiced concerns about congestion and declining land values affecting their profits, New York City introduced zoning as a legal apparatus. It was a new concept.

The merchants felt that their land values would be affected by the tall skyscrapers being built near Fifth Avenue to house the garment industry. And they didn’t want the people working in the garment industry to mix with their wealthy shoppers. Zoning’s beginnings had a lot to do with the exclusion of low-income people from certain areas of the city, and in the intervening century, zoning has continued to be used to confine low-income people and people of color to particular areas of a city.

Environmental hazards like hazardous waste facilities, fossil fuel storage, and transportation sites, and other polluting industrial facilities are disproportionally located in communities of color and low-income communities. But a new report from The New School’s Tishman Environment and Design Center shows how tools to enact environmental justice can come from the toolbox of injustice.

The report notes that, “examples of racial zoning are ubiquitous in planning history.” These same local zoning codes and land-use policies are now being used to address both existing and future pollution sources concentrated in low-income communities and communities of color. The report’s authors write: “If zoning and land use policies got us into this mess, they have the potential to get us out of it.”

So, what are these policies that promote environmental justice and where are they being implemented?

Bans on specific land uses and industries

In 1910, Baltimore, Maryland, became the first U.S. city to pass a residential segregation ordinance. After a 1917 Supreme Court ruling against racial segregation in housing, Baltimore employed other strategies to “exclude people of color from the financial benefits of homeownership,” according to the report. These actions laid the groundwork for today’s racial disparities in the city. In 2018, environmental justice advocates, including local neighborhood groups and national environmental groups with local chapters, successfully pushed for a ban on new crude oil terminals in Baltimore. Although federal law doesn’t allow municipalities to completely regulate commercial rail traffic, Baltimore was able to use its jurisdiction over land use and zoning for the city’s ban.

Baltimore is one of six cities (Chicago, Portland, Oakland, Seattle, and Whatcom County are the others) that the report identifies as prohibiting outright certain land uses and industries determined to be harmful for public health and the environment. Although locally unwanted land uses (LULUs) are often associated with residents trying to guard property values and “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) sentiment, the report argues that, in communities which face environmental injustice, LULUs “take on a wholly different meaning in the context of structural racism, patterns of uneven development” as well as the disproportionate impacts from pollution.

Broad environmental justice programs

New York City, San Francisco, and Fulton County, Georgia, have all enacted broad environmental justice policies and programs, the study’s authors find.

In 2000, San Francisco launched an environmental justice program. Since then it has earmarked more than $12 million in grants for local community projects serving environmental justice areas, and allocated resources to address health inequities, air quality, and renewable and efficient energy.

New York City’s policies, adopted in 2017, required a study of environmental justice areas and established an interagency group to create an environmental justice plan.

And in 2010, Fulton County started an environmental justice initiative that resulted in policies requiring the health impact on minority and low-income populations to be considered in decisions about land use planning and zoning.

Environmental review processes

Most municipalities already have processes, through planning and zoning boards, in which they review new development or expansion proposals. However, not all cities consider the effect of these development proposals on vulnerable or historically overburdened communities as part of the process.

Fulton County, Georgia; San Francisco, California; Camden and Newark, New Jersey; and Boston University have processes in place to review at least some types of new development through an environmental justice lens.

Proactive planning

Some cities also further environmental justice proactively through comprehensive plans (also called general plans, master plans, or land-use plans) that guide future development and establish new standards. Eugene, Oregon; National City, California; Washington, D.C.; and Fulton County, Georgia, all used their comprehensive plans or master plans to devise goals for working toward environmental justice. For example, in 2011, Washington, D.C. added a section in their comprehensive plan with policies that aim to protect all communities from “disproportionate exposure” to hazards as the city grows.

Seattle’s Public Utility Agency, which has significant land assets in historically overburdened communities, worked to make targeted investments to lessen pollution in these areas. And Los Angeles, California, used the concept of “green zones” in a 2016 policy called Clean Up Green Up Ordinance, establishing a Clean Up Green Up district within Boyle Heights, Pacoima/Sun Valley, and Wilmington, where the city applies more strict development standards for new construction and works to reduce negative health impacts. In 2017, Minneapolis, Minnesota, put forth a city council resolution aimed at green zones in order to improve heath and promote sustainable economic development.

Targeting existing land uses and public health codes

Although the above approaches are helpful for furthering environmental justice in future development, they don’t typically apply to existing land uses harmful to public health and the environment.

Huntington and National City, California; Washington, D.C.; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission all have policies targeting existing land uses. For example, National City grappled for a long time with “an excess of polluting industries due to mixed-use industrial and residential zoning,” according to the report. Now, National City has an amortization ordinance, which phases out industries near sensitive areas and includes a process for relocating businesses.

Additionally, San Francisco and Richmond, California; Chicago, Illinois; Detroit, Michigan; and Erie, Colorado have all used public health codes to protect people from air pollutants. San Francisco, for instance, passed a public health code article in 2014 that strengthened ventilation requirements in buildings within air pollution exposure zones.

The report also notes that when it comes to decisions about where pollution and environmental hazards are located, it’s mostly up to local governments. “This localization of efforts opened up the opportunity to hold local leaders and agencies more accountable,” the authors write. “The insights gained from these policies will fuel a new era of environmental justice policies taking a holistic approach to achieving environmental justice.”

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Which cities have concrete strategies for environmental justice?

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The EPA hired GOP oppo firm because it was sick of ‘fake news’

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

When Mother Jones first reported in December 2017 that the Environmental Protection Agency had hired a hyperpartisan GOP opposition research firm known for its aggressive tactics to handle the agency’s news-clipping work, the politically appointed flacks in the agency’s press office insisted the decision was about saving money and that the hiring had been handled through normal procurement channels. As we reported Thursday, we now know that was not the case. Internal emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show that political appointees in the EPA press office demanded that career staff push through the hiring of Definers Public Affairs — best known for its work for Republican campaigns and recently for its role as Facebook’s attack dog on Capitol Hill, which included attempts to smear George Soros for his critiques of the social-media network.

Now, thanks to another batch of internal emails, we have even more evidence that the motivation for hiring Definers came from the top agency political appointees who were ticked off at the old service because it was collecting too many news clips that portrayed then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt negatively.

News clipping services are used by public relations offices both inside and out of the government to help keep track of the wide constellation of media outlets that might be talking about a topic of interest. The product they create — usually a roundup of headlines or excerpts — is an internal document designed to keep those inside the agency informed about press coverage. Liz Purchia, a press staffer in Obama’s EPA, noted that “cherry-picking the clips so you only saw the good ones” isn’t typically done, because it “doesn’t give you a realistic picture.” The collection of clippings is not usually publicly distributed.

But according to the new batch of emails, also obtained through FOIA, top EPA political staff were sick of the previous news clipping service’s propensity to include headlines that tended to make the controversial new appointee, who brought to the EPA a Rolodex of industry connections, look bad.

“Is it necessary to include all the negative headlines that go out to everyone?” complained Samantha Dravis, the agency’s associate administrator for policy, in a March 17, 2017, email to John Konkus, who now leads the EPA’s press office. “I could care less what Al Gore thinks about Scott Pruitt’s position — why is that news?? Who puts this together?”

Dravis, who previously had worked as general counsel for the Republican Attorney General’s Association, which Pruitt had run before coming to Washington, was objecting to the inclusion of a link to a PBS News Hour interview with former Vice President Al Gore from the night before, in a daily news roundup.

Konkus, who had previously worked at Republican consulting firm Jamestown Associates, replied that he agreed and that this was an ongoing problem with the news clipping service at the time, a Virginia-based company called Bulletin Intelligence that had provided news clip roundups to the EPA and a number of other federal agencies for several years.

“We had them on the phone about a week ago complaining about the tilt and they said they would change,” he wrote. “They haven’t.”

Don Benton, a White House senior adviser to the EPA, forwarded the whole chain of complaints to his counterpart at the Department of Homeland Security, a political operative named Frank Wuco. A former military consultant, Wuco once created an alter-ego Islamic terrorist character that he featured in videos and as a host for radio shows in which he warned of the danger of Islamic extremism. Benton told Wuco that a scientist had told him that Bulletin Intelligence disseminates “fake news” and suggested Wuco “look into it.” The email was sent to Wuco’s private email address. Wuco’s reply, if any, was not included in the FOIA materials.

Neither Wuco nor Benton replied to a request for comment on the email exchange.

This was early in the Trump administration, but the aggressive and overtly partisan strategy eventually carried over into the EPA’s public operations. The EPA generated even more negative headlines for itself by blocking reporters from events, trying to plant negative stories about EPA reporters in conservative outlets, scripting interviews with Fox News, and calling reporters names, like when then-spokesperson Jahan Wilcox called a reporter a “piece of trash.” The EPA’s spending on Pruitt’s travel, his security, and his soundproof phone booth were already under scrutiny when the EPA approved a contract with Definers.

Charles Tiefer, a professor of contract law at the University of Baltimore, told Mother Jones: One of the main reasons that we have a corps of career government contract personnel is to keep the political people away from giving the taxpayer money out to political cronies.”

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The EPA hired GOP oppo firm because it was sick of ‘fake news’

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The Beauty of the Beastly – Natalie Angier


The Beauty of the Beastly

New Views on the Nature of Life

Natalie Angier

Genre: Science & Nature

Price: $11.99

Publish Date: April 4, 1996

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Seller: OpenRoad Integrated Media, LLC

“An awe-inspiring tour of nature” from a Pulitzer Prize–winning science writer ( San Francisco Examiner ).   Natalie Angier has taken great pains to learn her science from the molecule up. She knows all that scientists know—and sometimes more—about the power of symmetry in sexual relations, about the brutal courting habits of dolphins, about the grand deceit of orchids, and about the impact of female and male preferences on evolution. The Beauty of the Beastly takes the pulse of everything from the supple structure of DNA to the erotic ways of barn swallows, queen bees, and the endangered, otherworldly primate called the aye-aye.   Few writers have ever covered so many facets of biology so evocatively in one book. Timothy Ferris, author of the acclaimed Coming of Age in the Milky Way , says Angier is “one of the strongest and wittiest science writers in the world today.”   “Like Alan Lightman or Lewis Thomas,” writes Nobel laureate David Baltimore, “she draws from science a meaning that few scientists see, and her writing takes on an unusual dimension of artistry.” And Sherwin Nuland, author of How We Die , believes that “Natalie Angier is in the tradition of the great nature writers.”   “A gold mine.” — The New York Times   “From cockroaches to cheetahs, DNA to elephant dung, Angier gives us intimate and dramatic portraits of nature that readers will find rewarding.” — Publishers Weekly

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The Beauty of the Beastly – Natalie Angier

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Coming of Age at the End of Nature – Julie Dunlap & Susan A. Cohen


Coming of Age at the End of Nature

A Generation Faces Living on a Changed Planet

Julie Dunlap & Susan A. Cohen

Genre: Nature

Price: $12.99

Publish Date: September 19, 2016

Publisher: Trinity University Press

Seller: Perseus Books, LLC

Coming of Age at the End of Nature explores a new kind of environmental writing. This powerful anthology gathers the passionate voices of young writers who have grown up in an environmentally damaged and compromised world. Each contributor has come of age since Bill McKibben foretold the doom of humanity’s ancient relationship with a pristine earth in his prescient 1988 warning of climate change, The End of Nature . What happens to individuals and societies when their most fundamental cultural, historical, and ecological bonds weaken—or snap? In Coming of Age at the End of Nature , insightful millennials express their anger and love, dreams and fears, and sources of resilience for living and thriving on our shifting planet. Twenty-two essays explore wide-ranging themes that are paramount to young generations but that resonate with everyone, including redefining materialism and environmental justice, assessing the risk and promise of technology, and celebrating place anywhere from a wild Atlantic island to the Arizona desert, to Baltimore and Bangkok. The contributors speak with authority on problems facing us all, whether railing against the errors of past generations, reveling in their own adaptability, or insisting on a collective responsibility to do better.

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Coming of Age at the End of Nature – Julie Dunlap & Susan A. Cohen

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Baltimore voters will decide on the future of their water

Water bills in Baltimore are out of control. Between 2010 and 2017, the typical household’s annual water and sewer bill jumped from $347 to $720. Residents have even turned to buying bottled water and purchasing gym memberships just to use the showers, because its more affordable than using their tap.

Like many cities on the East Coast, Baltimore’s aging water infrastructure is in need of major investments. To repair and update its systems, the city has raised water prices. Companies have been pushing privatization while many residents, particularly in neighborhoods that are working class communities of color, have had their water shut off.

But just this week, two water-related bills were approved to make it to the ballot this fall. One bill would make it illegal for the city to turn over its public water utility to a private company. The other would create a racial equity fund to ensure that city services treat all residents fairly.

Several companies have approached Baltimore asking to lease or manage the city’s water service. Privatization is often an appealing move to cash-strapped cities, but Baltimore has turned down efforts so far. A Food & Water Watch study of the 500 largest community water systems in the U.S. found that private utilities typically charge close to 60 percent more for water than their public counterparts.

If voters pass the bill this fall, Baltimore will become the first major U.S. city to ban the privatization of its water. “Hopefully other cities across the country will follow our lead,” says City Councilman Brandon Scott, who introduced another measure that he hopes will help improve water service in the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods.

Scott’s bill would help fund an equity assessment program that would mandate city agencies and services to evaluate and address any disparities based on race, gender, or income.

Under the program, the city would take a look at how water cutoffs and high water bills impact different communities. If they see that those water bill issues are impacting poor people, people of color, or women more frequently, then they’ll have to make changes, Scott says.

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Baltimore voters will decide on the future of their water

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Meet the young refugee behind Zero Hour’s climate platform

Standing on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on a rainy Saturday morning, 20-year-old Kibiriti Majuto tells me there’s something he doesn’t understand. He gestures to the U.S. Capitol building looming tall in the distance, and asks: If the vast majority of scientists believe in climate change, then why is the government not taking action?

Behind him, a crowd of young people wear shirts with slogans like “Choose a cooler world” and hold up hand-drawn signs that read “Youth for climate action now.” Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, an indigenous hip-hop artist, raps in the background, “Fight for the cause, die for the dream.”

When the group begins to march, Majuto’s near the front. Megaphone in hand, rain pouring down, he leads a chant, shouting, “What time is it?” The crowd, headed toward the Capitol, yells back, “Zero Hour!”

This is the Zero Hour climate march, a movement led by POC youth.

Majuto is the main author of the Zero Hour platform, the core set of the marchers’ demands. Hundreds of people — many of them young — braved the weather to attend the national march, while others gathered for sister marches all around the country. These Gen-Zers want action on climate change, and they want it now.

Founded by 16-year-old Jamie Margolin last summer, Zero Hour has been picking up steam, sorting out march logistics, and getting big-name environmental partners on board– all while trying to get their schoolwork done.

On the eve of the march, I spoke with Majuto about his experiences as a youth climate organizer. He’s part of Earth Guardians, an international group of young climate activists who Margolin reached out to for help. Six months ago, he stepped up.

Majuto is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. His family fled to escape conflict, first for South Africa. He eventually found himself in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he attends Piedmont Virginia Community College.

He came to the U.S. in 2012, flying over the Statue of Liberty into JFK airport. In some ways, America was as he imagined. What he didn’t expect to see was so much poverty. He recalls a trip to Baltimore, about a year after he moved to the U.S., where he was shocked to see a lot of poor people, many of them black. This didn’t fit with his utopian image of America. “What went wrong?” he thought to himself.

To answer that question, Majuto read up on American history. His takeaway: The U.S. tends to address the needs of middle-class families, not people in poverty. That’s an issue he’s trying to address in the Zero Hour platform. He asks, “Who’s the most impacted? How do we start at the bottom and go up?”

The platform demands include the sort of things you’d expect: slashing greenhouse gas emissions, investing in mass transit, transitioning from fossil fuels, and fining polluters. But, per the bottom-up framework, Zero Hour goes much further.

For instance, just having a good mass transit system isn’t enough: The group says it needs to be accessible for people with disabilities. The transition away from fossil fuels needs to incorporate racial justice and workers rights. As for those pollution fines? They say some of the cash should go toward helping communities adapt to a warming world.

To talk about climate change, they believe, you need to address systems of oppression too.

“We experience climate change differently based on our class, race, and gender,” Majuto tells me. “Those that are well-off have a tendency to live where they can breathe fresh air and don’t have to worry about a pipeline and fossil fuel infrastructure being built in their communities.”

While adults might laud these efforts, the young people doing the work are actually kinda pissed. Adults have dropped the ball on climate change, Majuto says: “It’s not my job, or other young people’s in Zero Hour, to tell politicians who are literally civil servants it’s their job to be doing all this work.”

But they’re organizing and marching anyway, because they feel like there’s no other choice. Majuto says that he and his peers are simply trying to ensure that they can grow up and live as human beings.

“If we keep destroying our planet,” he explains, “we might not even have a future.”

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Meet the young refugee behind Zero Hour’s climate platform

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African Americans will pay a steep price for Trump’s new solar tariff

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

Last week, a 30 percent tariff that President Donald Trump tacked onto imported solar panels kicked in. Industry experts are predicting it will end up costing the U.S. 23,000 solar jobs in 2018 alone. There’s still a lot of uncertainty about how precisely the new tariff will impact domestic solar panel sales and jobs, but GTM Research expects it to slow the residential solar market by nearly 10 percent between now and 2022. That could affect the number of solar jobs in the future, especially where the power drill hits the rooftop — more than three-fourths of solar jobs in the U.S. are in demand-side sectors such as installation.

The United States was enjoying a 168 percent growth rate in solar jobs since 2010, according to the 2017 Solar Jobs Census report released last week. African Americans in particular have seen a burst in solar workforce participation over the past few years, constituting 7.4 percent of the workforce in 2017, compared to 6.6 percent the year before and 5.2 percent in 2015.

This, of course, is hardly proportional to the general working-age black population, but African Americans were the only racial group to see their share of the solar workforce significantly expand between 2016 and 2017 — every other group, save for whites, saw a drop.

In fact, the entire solar industry saw a decline in jobs last year, losing an estimated 9,800 jobs from 2016. This was the first year the solar census recorded a drop-off since it began tracking job numbers in 2010. The anomalous solar jobs increase found among African Americans is driven in part by the widening list of jurisdictions with large black populations that have adopted new solar policies — states like New York, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C., according to the report.

The National Solar Foundation

The depression found otherwise across the industry can be attributed to the cool-down in solar projects in states like California and Massachusetts, where solar already had a stronghold. There was a surge in solar power development in 2016, when there was something of a panic about federal solar tax credits expiring that year (Congress later extended those tax credits).

However, the solar market was rattled once again in 2017 when two solar power manufacturing companies, the bankruptcy-headed Suniva and SolarWorld Americas, petitioned the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) to adjust the prices of imported solar panels via tariff because they claimed they couldn’t compete. This is what triggered Trump’s decision in January to levy the tariff, based on an ITC ruling in September that sided with the two companies.

The Solar Energy Industries Association took umbrage, saying that such tariffs would not save those two solar companies from bankruptcy, but would “create a crisis in a part of our economy that has been thriving.” The trade group was joined in opposition by organizations that tilt conservative and promote free-market policies, such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, whose International Relations and Federalism Task Force director Karla Jones wrote before the ITC decision:

Over 38,000 solar workers are employed in manufacturing positions at firms domestically making solar components like inverters, racking systems and more. Guess what happens if one doubles the price of solar panels in America? This thriving industry will quickly succumb to tough competition from natural gas, coal and other forms of energy. Those 38,000 manufacturing jobs might disappear if artificially high input costs price the entire industry out of existence. Just ask the domestic steel industry, which blends tens of thousands of domestic jobs after the last successful Section 201 petition slapped tariffs on imported steel.

Since Trump followed through on the tariff, one major question has been whether it would impact urban-scale projects, especially with the spread of solar power developments for low-income households and community-shared distribution. Also, will the steady growth in employment for African Americans in urban centers now be blunted due to the expected rise in solar panel costs?

As the NAACP recently noted in the launch of its new Solar Equity Initiative, low-income households spend more than twice as much of their take-home wages on lighting and heating their homes than do middle-class and wealthy households, and nearly 70 percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant. Which means they live with those plants’ air pollution. Scaling up and pricing down solar costs could help alleviate those problems.

It’s too early to tell what impact this will have on city-located solar jobs with the tariff just kicking in this week. The bulk of the cost of solar projects is mostly in labor, permitting, and installation, even for systems in low-income areas. The cost of panels is usually less than 15 percent of the total cost of these kinds of projects. Still, the future is somewhat uncertain for some organizations that have committed to spreading solar to poor families.

One organization grappling with this issue is Civic Works, a Baltimore nonprofit. It just completed the pilot phase of a new solar initiative that installed solar panels on the rooftops of 10 houses in several low-income communities, including Sandtown-Winchester, the neighborhood where Freddie Gray, who had asthma, was arrested before he was later found dead in police custody.

A loan from the City of Baltimore’s Energy Initiative Loan Program gave the nonprofit the capital to cover all the upfront costs of solar installation on the houses it’s serving. Civic Works will receive additional help from the 30 percent federal solar tax credit to recoup some of those costs, which is generally how low-income solar is financed. Many of the nonprofit’s workers are people who’ve been incarcerated and unemployed. However, nonprofits usually are working on very thin-margin budgets in this game, and can’t afford anything even a little financially surprising.

“Our suppliers have told us, ‘Don’t worry, we have tons of solar panels already,’ so it’s not something that’s going to affect us immediately, but it will down the line,” said Earl Millett, Civic Works’ chief operating officer. “To get the project done that we just did at the end of 2017, we needed everything to pull together perfectly, and we still had just a little wiggle room in the economics.”

Millett continued: “The economics are tough to work out with any solar project, though, and doing it on low-income homes adds an extra complexity. But it’s something people are working to overcome, because having a large segment of our population miss out on the benefits of solar just because they’re low-income residents shouldn’t be acceptable.”

Anya Schoolman, executive director of Solar United Neighbors of D.C., said the the real impact of the tariff will be felt on large utility-scale solar projects, like the fields of panels you might find on undeveloped land or in a desert. Solar United Neighbors has been working to spread community solar and also embarked on a project to rest solar panels on the roofs of 220 low-income households in D.C., at no cost to the homeowners.

“The tariffs are going to be an issue, but it’s one of the smaller variables,” said Schoolman. “We have many other variables to consider such as permitting costs [and] interconnection costs, which are what the utility companies charge, and those things end up making a bigger difference.”

However, the blow to the larger utility-scale solar projects is not insignificant. According to Schoolman, those projects, some of which are now on hold because of the tariff, were just beginning to compete with coal and natural gas. The 2017 Solar Jobs Census found that 86 percent of surveyed solar businesses said the tariff would negatively impact their company. The census also reported that 78 percent of project developers and 70 percent of companies that do installations would decrease their solar activities under new trade restrictions. This was all before Trump imposed the tariff. Since then, one major solar project in Texas has been stalled, according to Utility Dive.

The tariff directly affects only jobs in the manufacturing industry, which account for roughly 15 percent of the solar industry. The installation sector, by comparison, accounts for roughly 52 percent of the industry. Neither Millett nor Schoolman thought the tariff would have any real impact on installation jobs in their programs, at least not immediately, despite the prospect of panel prices slightly rising. Both the installation and manufacturing sectors experienced job losses in 2017, according to the Solar Jobs Census.

Stacey Danner, who ran a company that financed solar panels for low-income households in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, said he didn’t understand why Trump would kick the solar industry while it was down with this tariff.

“If you’re talking about jobs and building the industry, then this isn’t the way to do it because you’re throwing workers from thriving businesses in a nascent industry out,” he said. “Now they are back at square one, which puts them back on unemployment and back on welfare rolls. And I thought that what this was what Trump’s policies were supposed to prevent?”

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African Americans will pay a steep price for Trump’s new solar tariff

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Maryland’s flash flood is a sign of what the future has in store

flash forward

Maryland’s flash flood is a sign of what the future has in store

By on Aug 1, 2016

Cross-posted from

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The streets of Ellicott City, Maryland, became raging rivers on Saturday, with cars tossed around like toy boats after nearly six inches of rain fell in just two hours. Rainfall that intense is a 1-in-1,000 year event for the area, according to the National Weather Service.

While downpours that intense are rare, heavy rainfall events have been on the rise in the region and nationwide thanks to the warming of Earth’s atmosphere caused by accumulating greenhouse gases. That trend is expected to continue as temperatures steadily rise.

The rains and ensuing floods were the product of stormy weather across parts of the mid-Atlantic and Northeast over the weekend. Ellicott City happened to be caught where one storm formed right after the other and where slow-moving rains continually fell over the same area.

The high moisture content of the atmosphere also meant there was plenty of water for the storms to wring out. More than 4.5 inches of rain fell in just one hour, the NWS reported. The total for the whole event was 6.5 inches.

“It was pretty impressive,” Luis Rosa, a meteorologist with the NWS office for Baltimore and Washington, D.C., said.

Unlike the massive floods that swept through parts of West Virginia in June, this flooding “was very localized,” Rosa said. And while the rugged topography of West Virginia helped concentrate flooding in narrow valleys, the urbanization of the impacted area of Maryland contributed in this case. Concrete and asphalt block the absorption of water into the ground, meaning more water contributing to floods.

That water also poured into the Patapsco River, which “rose from nothing to major flooding” in a couple hours, Rosa said.

Two people swept away by the floodwaters were killed, according to news reports.

Preliminary calculations by a NWS hydrologist suggest the rain event was a once-a-millennium event, or one that has a 0.1 percent chance of occurring in any given year, according to the Baltimore Sun.

While river levels have subsided and cleanup has begun, Maryland, like the U.S. as a whole, faces more such events in the future as the planet continues to warm thanks to human emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

Trends in heavy precipitation of more than two inches in Baltimore.Climate Central

As the temperature of the atmosphere rises, it can hold more moisture, meaning the storms of the future will have more available to turn into torrential rains.

This trend is already visible across the United States, as well as in Maryland. Between 1958 and 2012, the heaviest 1 percent of all rainfall events rose 71 percent in the northeastern part of the country, including Maryland.

There has also been a jump in the number of days per year with more than two inches of rain in Baltimore since 1950, as well as a steady increase in that measure nationwide.

In terms of inland flooding, which depends not only on rainfall, but on factors like topography, land use, and structures like levees, Maryland is expected to see increases of between 40 and 60 percent in the intensity and duration of such events by mid-century, according to a Climate Central analysis.

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Maryland’s flash flood is a sign of what the future has in store

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Gotta catch ’em all? It’s a lot easier if you’re white.

Gotta catch ’em all? It’s a lot easier if you’re white.

By on Jul 19, 2016Share

For those of you who’ve deprived yourselves of the thrill that is Pokemon Go, here’s all you need to play the game: Pokemon (the little cute animals) and pokeballs (the little things that catch ’em). In cities, the Pokemon themselves show up all over the place. As for the pokeballs, you get a few for free when the game starts, but after that you need to visit a pokestop in order to re-up. But all pokestops are not located equally.

I’ve been playing the game for about a week now, and I noticed several screenshots from other players’ illustrated neighborhoods with considerably more pokestops than my own (I live solidly working class neighborhood of color in Los Angeles). I started a hashtag, #mypokehood, on Twitter to crowdsource some information about what pokestops looked like in different places.

Here’s some of what I’ve found:

Pokemon Go racially preferences some areas more than others. It turns out Niantic, which makes Pokemon Go, relied on a map from a previous augmented reality game called Ingress, which was crowd-sourced from its mostly male, tech-savvy players. The result is a high concentration of pokestops in commercial and downtown areas of some cities, while there are typically fewer pokestops in non-white or residential areas, if there are any at all.

Parks are filled with pokemon and pokestops — but that doesn’t help in neighborhoods of color that lack green space. It seems that public parks in cities are designated pokestops, regardless of the neighborhood’s racial makeup. But as Grist has previously pointed out, parks tend to be concentrated in whiter, wealthier neighborhoods.

Black players have reasonable concerns. Back when Ingress players were mapping out the landmarks we now use to play Pokemon Go, black players were targeted by police. According to @typhoonjim, who played Ingress, a “black opponent received thorough grilling” by cops when mapping out spaces in Baltimore — and he reports hearing of similar accounts in other cities. Omari Akil explains that, as a black Pokemon player, he fears that circling neighborhoods while playing the game could even mean death.

Muslim, Arab, and South Asian players might be considered a national threat when out catching Pikachu. What is considered suspicious behavior? According to Homeland Security, someone who loiters or takes “unusual, repeated, and/or prolonged observation of a building,” may be engaging in a “terrorism-related crime.” The problem is, playing Pokemon Go requires this exact kind of behavior — and whether or not it’s deemed suspicious might depend on someone’s religion or ethnicity.

Native American players living in reservations have fewer options. Because pokestops are concentrated in cities, rural players everywhere have trouble. But for Native Americans who live in reservations, it’s even tougher. Majerle Lister, who lives in the Navajo Nation, two hours outside of Flagstaff, says his friends, who want to play the game, haven’t found any pokestops. Angel White Eyes, who lives in Pine Ridge, said that there are a few pokestops there, but they’re a serious trek away.

The game doesn’t serve disabled people. It doesn’t matter that a pokestop is just a few doors away if you can’t leave the house. Pokemon Go players have to move around in order to hatch Pokemon eggs, catch new kinds of Pokemon, and fight in gyms. None of that works very well for disabled players, children stuck in hospital beds during a long-term stay, and others who aren’t guaranteed accessible sidewalks and transportation.

There’s no way to submit new pokestops. Niantic originally allowed Ingress players to submit potential locations using pretty straightforward criteria, as noted by @Charkitect  — but that’s been shut down, at least for now. It’s too bad we can’t add to the map and start shaping the world of the game to better match the world its players live in.

Pokemon Go illustrates systemic inequities. The tech-savvy, mostly male Ingress players who built this map didn’t just happen to end up where they did: A neighborhood’s tax base determines how good the local public schools are. Because white people earn more money on average, their kids get to go to better public schools. Those kids who have better backgrounds in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are better suited to help games like Ingress create maps. Now, they’ve got a leg up on the most popular smartphone game on the planet — and they’re safer when they play it. That’s how systemic inequity works: It influences every facet of life, even in augmented reality.

Moving forward, there are some quick fixes for Pokemon Go, like adding pokestops at all bus stops — but that will only help part of the problem. It’s going to take a lot creativity, as well as a lot of patience, to fix augmented reality, starting with real reality.

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Gotta catch ’em all? It’s a lot easier if you’re white.

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