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Forget planting trees. This company is funding 4 far-out carbon removal projects.

Last August, a San Francisco–based tech startup called Stripe made a bold climate promise. The company, which makes software that enables online payments and is valued at $36 billion, was already investing in energy-efficiency projects to reduce its carbon footprint. It was also paying for carbon offsets for the emissions that it couldn’t avoid, from things like business flights and the natural gas burned to heat its offices. But Stripe wanted to go even further to take action on climate change. The company announced it would spend an additional $1 million annually on emerging carbon removal technologies, bringing its carbon balance sheet into the black.

The announcement kicked off a vetting process in which Stripe solicited proposals and consulted with scientists to evaluate them. On Monday, it delivered on its promise, revealing its first four winners, which will be receiving about $250,000 each.

Though the amounts are small, the gesture is huge. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that in order to prevent catastrophic climate change, we’ll need to start actively pulling carbon out of the carbon cycle and permanently sequestering it. But a lot of the tools available to do so are still nascent and expensive, and will require the kind of leap-of-faith buy-in that Stripe is offering to help them scale up.

The carbon removal technologies Stripe chose are early stage, and currently remove carbon at a cost of between $75 and $775 per ton — a far cry from common carbon offset projects like forest conservation and methane capture from landfills, which typically cost less than $10 per ton. Stripe’s $1 million will only sequester about 6,500 tons of CO2, assuming the earliest-stage projects it chose actually work.

Swiss-based ClimeWorks has the most established technology of the bunch, and is also the most expensive. ClimeWorks uses renewable energy to power machines that capture CO2 directly from the air and inject it deep underground, where it reacts with rock formations and hardens. The company says its pilot project will bury 50 tons of CO2 in 2020, and it’s in the process of developing a larger plant that will capture several thousand tons of CO2 per year.

Charm Industrial’s bio-oil, produced from biomass, will be injected underground Charm Industrial

Stripe also chose CarbonCure, a Canadian company that takes CO2 sourced from industrial emitters and incorporates it into concrete.

A third company, Charm Industrial, will use the money to test the viability of injecting bio-oil underground — sort of like reverse oil drilling. Bio-oil is a carbon-rich fluid produced by burning biomass like corn husks and rice straw that typically rot in the field; burying it underground removes it from the carbon cycle.

The fourth winner is Project Vesta, a startup founded by a guy who also markets supplements that allegedly enhance brain function. Project Vesta is working on a pilot study to prove the safety and efficacy of spreading a mineral called olivine on sandy beaches, where waves will break the olivine down, speeding up its ability to pull CO2 from the air.

If you’re thinking that some of these projects sound a little out there, you’re not alone. Some climate hawks and scientists have raised their eyebrows at the announcement. “I question whether the companies that they are supporting can scale,” commented Jigar Shah, president of the clean energy investment firm Generate Capital, on Twitter. Volcanologist Erik Klemetti voiced concern that Project Vesta could have unintended ecosystem consequences.

But Jane Zelikova, chief scientist at Carbon180, a nonprofit focused on carbon removal, applauded Stripe for being a leader in the space.

“They’re not the only company thinking about negative emissions or carbon removal,” Zelikova said. “But they’re certainly the first ones essentially saying, ‘We’ll pay any price per ton, we want to move this whole field forward.’ I think that’s really awesome.”

Zelikova’s expertise is in soil carbon sequestration, and she was one of the scientists hired by Stripe as consultants to review submissions. Ultimately the company did not go with any soil-based carbon removal projects, but Zelikova praised Stripe for seeking expert opinion and outside analysis and for making the entire process transparent. Stripe has shared its evaluation criteria online and encouraged other companies to use it, in addition to making all of the proposals it received available on GitHub.

“That is very impressive and I think very rare, the level of transparency and cooperation,” said Zelikova. “I hope they serve as a template for how other people can do something similar.”


Forget planting trees. This company is funding 4 far-out carbon removal projects.

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New emails show the Justice Department is helping Big Oil fight climate lawsuits

Three years ago, a first-of-its-kind legal case argued that fossil fuel companies were liable for climate change — and should pay up to help cities adapt. That case, filed in July 2017 by two counties and one city in California against 20 fossil fuel companies, alleged that emissions from those companies will be responsible for an estimated 7.4 feet of sea-level rise in coming years.

What happened next is reminiscent of what occurred in the 1990s, when states filed lawsuits against tobacco companies in droves and the public rapidly soured on the industry. More California cities filed climate liability lawsuits against Big Oil, seeking reparations for climate change and its effects. Then other cities and counties from across the country filed their own suits. Oil companies went to court over claims that they lied to investors and the public about climate change, damaged fisheries, and impinged on young people’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

At every turn, ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, ConocoPhillips, and Shell fought tooth and nail against the wave of lawsuits, arguing that the plaintiffs should look to the federal government, not the private sector, for financial assistance related to climate change. Now, a new investigation from InsideClimate News has revealed that the federal government has been working with some of those oil companies to oppose the wave of lawsuits.

Some 178 pages of emails between U.S. Department of Justice attorneys and industry lawyers — obtained by the Natural Resources Defense Council — show the government has been planning to come to the aid of these lawsuit-afflicted companies since early 2018. Not only did the DOJ work on an amicus — “friend of the court” — brief in support of major oil companies shortly after the San Francisco and Oakland lawsuits were filed, but the department was also working with Republican attorneys generals from 15 states to come up with a plan to help those companies. Department of Justice attorneys had several phone calls with lawyers defending BP, Chevron, Exxon, and other oil companies, and even met some of them in person.

Curiously, the Department of Justice did not reach out to the plaintiffs in the cases, like the cities of Oakland and San Francisco, to collaborate. The department’s environmental division, which bills itself as “the nation’s environmental lawyer,” opted to covertly work with industry groups rather than the communities it’s supposed to represent.

“The Trump administration’s position is ‘We’re going to side with the fossil fuel interests in the nuisance cases over these cities,’” Phillip Gregory, co-council for the young people’s climate case, Juliana v. United States, told Grist.

“It’s very unusual for the federal government to be so aligned with industry on a damages case,” he said, particularly when the government isn’t implicated in the case. If the lawsuits were successful, oil companies, not the federal government, would be compelled to pay the damages.

Still, it’s unclear whether the DOJ crossed a line. “It wouldn’t pass the sniff test if the DOJ was trying to address substantive issues,” Justin Smith, former deputy assistant attorney general in DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, told InsideClimate News. “If the meetings were about the logistics, there’s nothing improper.”

To Gregory, the DOJ’s actions appear nothing if not political. “The Trump administration wants to control all dealings concerning fossil fuels, even though the fossil fuels are harming the youth of America,” he said. “It’s very capable of looking out for the fossil fuel industry — capable and willing.”

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New emails show the Justice Department is helping Big Oil fight climate lawsuits

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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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China’s plan to reduce smog in cities basically just moved it to other areas

The Beijing air was so polluted, you couldn’t see to the other side of the street. Thousands of parents and children overflowed the hospitals, and rows of babies were hooked up to machines, suffering from respiratory issues. If you zoomed out on a map, the smog cloud covered one-sixth of the entire country.

It was 2013, and the particulate matter in China’s air, often bad, had gone off the charts into a full-on “airpocalypse,” due to increases in iron and steel production, diesel trucking, and coal-fired energy production.  

“A ‘normal bad’ pollution day is like a rating of 160. I think [one] day the rating was above 600,” said Anthony Singleterry, a Seattle resident who was living in Beijing at the time.

In response to the pollution, the Chinese government quickly drafted and launched a plan to mitigate smog in its big cities. It set aggressive clean air goals for the capital region, and met them, too: By 2017, particulate air pollution in the area was reduced by 25 percent.

But, as a team of Chinese and international scientists found, that quick pursuit of cleaner air for cities meant outsourcing much of the country’s coal-based energy production, and with it the air pollution, to poorer neighboring regions.

A new study in Science Advances looks at the unintended harm the plan did to bordering regions.

Under the policy, 53 percent of Beijing’s energy production was moved elsewhere. More rural regions often have less efficient technologies and lower environmental standards.

The study found that the plan actually increased particulate pollution and carbon emissions nationwide. It also resulted in increased water scarcity in the more rural provinces, which are now providing water to the coal plants. Overall, the study said, these measures may just be passing off pollution problems to less-developed regions of the country.

“Our intention is certainly not to blame or discourage environmental policies designed to reduce air pollution,” but rather to examine the unintended side effects of isolated environmental policies, said University of Maryland’s Kuishuang Feng, a co-author of the study. 

Some smog from these new power plants in neighboring areas will also travel back to the cities, canceling out some of the gains made in reaching the 25 percent pollution reduction goal.

“Especially with an issue like air pollution, it’s not the smartest scientific approach to these problems,” Chris Nielsen, executive director of the Harvard-China Project, told Grist and added that policies should be more holistic and long-term. “Chinese environmental air pollution policies can be overly narrow, both in their spatial focus and environmental focus by being single-pollutant driven.”

Nielsen said there is a benefit, though, to the Chinese government in setting such narrow targets: They are easily measured, and easily communicated to the public. Multi-faceted environmental policy takes “messy, complicated science,” he said. “So it’s hard to explain what you’re chasing.”

Lara Cushing, a public health researcher at San Francisco State University, said she’s seen this kind of spillover effect before: here in the states. She’s published work on similar issues with California’s cap-and-trade emissions program.

“The challenge is that without a broader coordinated strategy, there’s these really big problems of leakage — of pollution just moving around,” Cushing said.

After a 2018 study found California had significantly lowered emissions statewide, but at the expense of poorer communities, the state developed its own environmental justice tool to map pollution by county, and show the areas where people are particularly vulnerable to its effects.

The China study is important, Cushing said, because it not only sheds light on the spillover effect; it shows how unintended consequences can impact water and climate, too.

Since meeting its initial goals set after the “airpocalypse” for 2017, China has rolled out a new climate plan that is a bit more comprehensive. Its name translates to: “Action Plan for Winning the Blue Sky War.” No city in China yet meets the World Health Organization’s recommended particulate levels, so the new policy expands air pollution goals to all cities, rather than just those in the capital region.

Since 2013, the Chinese government also restructured its environmental policy staff. Climate policy used to be under the economic and development commission, and now it has its own branch. This was done, according to Nielsen, to allow scientists to coordinate more closely with government officials on policy.

“It’s evidence that the government recognizes, at least to some degree, what is described in this paper,” Nielsen said.


China’s plan to reduce smog in cities basically just moved it to other areas

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Washington and Nevada join the swelling list of states aiming for 100% clean power

The peer pressure to clean up the electric grid is gripping the country.

Recent weeks have brought a flurry of ambitious clean-energy pledges. On Earth Day, Nevada’s governor signed into law a measure banning fossil-fuel generated electricity by 2050. Washington’s legislature just sent a bill to Governor Jay Inslee (the presidential contender) that would have the Evergreen State running on purely carbon-free electricity by 2030. Last month, New Mexico committed to 100 percent clean electricity by 2045. California, Hawaii, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico, passed similar laws a bit further back. There are similar bills pending in Illinois, Minnesota, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Florida, and Massachusetts. And don’t forget the 100-odd cities —  from Orlando, Florida to Pueblo, Colorado — that have vowed to kick their fossil-fuel addiction.

“Voters and state legislatures are being pretty darn clear that there’s widespread support for getting the electricity sector to 100 percent clean,” said Josh Freed, who runs the energy program at the Third Way think tank in Washington, D.C. “In our wildest expectations, we couldn’t have anticipated this much action this quickly.”

It’s a seismic shift from the 1990s and 2000s, when states made goals to get get a certain share of their electricity from renewable power. Those laws were designed to help the nascent renewables industry find its footing, Freed said. Now that the industry is up and running, “the next question is, how do we get carbon off the grid?”

That’s why everyone seems to be excited about the same goal. And this isn’t just the flavor of the month — there’s a good reason to focus on a carbon-free electric system. Though there are still hurdles to leap, states basically know how to eliminate emissions from the electrical grid, said Mike O’Boyle, head of electricity policy at the think tank Energy Innovation in San Francisco. You can’t say the same about eliminating emissions from air-travel or concrete production, at least not yet. So squeezing the greenhouse gases out of electricity is a clearly achievable goal. And there are beneficial knock-on effects: It paves the way to clean up transportation (by switching to electric vehicles) and buildings (by switching to electric heating and cooling).

“It think its a robust and meaningful trend,” O’Boyle said. “A lot of gubernatorial candidates, and presidential candidates, have campaigned on 100-percent clean electricity. It’s become part of the conventional wisdom that it’s a realistic and effective policy goal.”

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Washington and Nevada join the swelling list of states aiming for 100% clean power

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Meet the 16-year-old who went viral after asking Dianne Feinstein to support a Green New Deal

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Isha Clarke, a junior at MetWest High School in Oakland, California, was one of about a dozen young people who confronted Senator Dianne Feinstein in an attempt to convince her to endorse the Green New Deal resolution proposed earlier this month by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, and Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts.

The group went into the meeting with high hopes. They emerged disappointed but armed with footage that enraged many in the online environmental community who believe the U.S. needs to remake its economy to tackle climate change.

An edited video of the encounter in the foyer of the California Democrat’s San Francisco office went viral on Twitter over the weekend. A longer version ends with the Senator promising Clarke an internship, a reflection that Feinstein, who has been in office for three decades, knows “how to play the game,” according to The Atlantic’s Caitlin Flanagan.

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Clarke is a member of the climate group Youth vs. Apocalypse, a young people-led organization under the umbrella of the Bay Area’s chapter of the climate advocacy group 350.org. (Editor’s note: Grist board member Bill McKibben is 350.org’s founder.) She was invited to speak at a rally outside of Feinstein’s California office organized by the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led climate activist organization, and attended by social justice outfit Bay Area Earth Guardians. She then joined the Earth Guardians and Sunrise activists when they met with Feinstein in her office.

Grist caught up with Clarke on Monday to discuss the online reaction to the Feinstein meeting, the Green New Deal resolution, why she’s fighting for climate justice at the tender age of 16, and of course, the internship the Senator promised her. (This conversation has been edited for clarity.)

Q. What was your impression of Senator Feinstein’s reaction to your request?

A. Our feeling about the whole interaction was really bad. At the end of the day, it’s not about her, it’s not about her tone or her reaction, it’s about her vote. We’re focusing on the fact that we went there to ask her to vote yes on the Green New Deal because that is the most important thing. We’re not really concerned with all the other stuff. It’s sort of becoming a distraction, you know?

Q. Did you expect her to say, “Yes I support the version of the Green New Deal” when you confronted her?

A. Yes. We really just wanted her to say that she was in solidarity with us — and that when it comes to her time to vote she would vote yes. I didn’t know that she necessarily opposed it, but I knew that she hadn’t made up her mind yet. I was there to get her to be on the side of “yes.”

Q. Senator Feinstein handed out copies of what she referred to as her “own Green New Deal” during that meeting. What did you think of it?

A. It’s simply not bold enough, and it doesn’t align with science. It doesn’t talk about fracking or offshore drilling, green jobs, or transportation. I also don’t think it takes a bold enough stance on economic or racial justice. It’s really just a watered-down version of the Green New Deal.

Feinstein made the argument that she didn’t think that AOC’s Green New Deal would pass, but quite frankly, neither will her resolution. If we’re going to be offering something to Congress it needs to be something bold. Honestly, right now, it’s more about getting our politicians to take a serious public stance on the Green New Deal and start building the momentum so that when [Democrats] do take back the Senate, and we have more of a political force, we can go right into the Green New Deal. We know that it might not pass but it’s about solidarity.

Q. Did you ask Feinstein for the internship or did she offer it?

A. After the whole interaction, we were leaving and I wanted to bring it back to the purpose [of the meeting], and thank her for her time, because I recognize that she’s a busy lady. She said, ‘Thank you and I really want you to have an internship here so you can understand what it’s like and understand all of the nuance and things like that.’ And then she started to walk away, and I wanted to hold her to that. I mean she just offered me an internship, so I was the one who asked her how I would do that. And the cameras had started walking away so they only heard me asking for the internship. But she had actually brought it up, and I was just following through.

Q. Has her office reached out since Friday?

A. They haven’t reached out. I have their business card. I’m still debating on whether or not I’m going to take [the internship]. It’s a complex situation. The reason why I would take the internship is because I think it’s an incredible opportunity. To be blunt, you have to learn how to play the game to change it. So I think it is a super cool way to be able to do that, and to learn the ins and outs. And I think that it’s also important to have my voice be in the room.

But I wouldn’t take it for a couple of reasons. No. 1: I don’t know what the internship actually entails. Sometimes high school students just do paperwork, and that’s not what I’m interested in. But mostly it’s because I don’t want my having an internship with her to turn into a justification for the whole situation. It’s already kind of being used like that. People are saying, ‘There was a happy ending, and Senator Feinstein offered a girl an internship and whoopdeedoo.’ And I don’t want me having a position there to be a way to cover up everything that just happened.

Q.You have spoken out about gun reform in the past. Now you’re talking about climate. As a politically-active student with limited time, how do you decide which issues to fight for?

A. I am a young woman of color, so I feel drawn to a lot of issues. Part of the reason why I’m working on the Green New Deal right now is because I think it is the most intersectional plan that I’ve seen ever, and it really excites me that I can work for everything I believe in in this one deal. It encompasses economic justice, climate justice, racial justice, women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, all of that can be part of the Green New Deal.

You can’t separate climate justice from any other justices because they’re all-in-one. So when I’m fighting for climate justice, I’m fighting for everything else, too.


Meet the 16-year-old who went viral after asking Dianne Feinstein to support a Green New Deal

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The Trouble with Physics – Lee Smolin


The Trouble with Physics
The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next
Lee Smolin

Genre: Physics

Price: $10.99

Publish Date: September 4, 2007

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Seller: OpenRoad Integrated Media, LLC

“A splendid, edifying report from the front lines of theorectical physics” ( San Francisco Chronicle ).   In this illuminating book, renowned physicist Lee Smolin argues that fundamental physics—the search for the laws of nature—is losing its way.   Ambitious ideas about extra dimensions, exotic particles, multiple universes, and strings have captured the public’s imagination—and the imagination of experts. But these ideas have not been tested experimentally, and some, like string theory, seem to offer no possibility of being tested. Even still, these speculations dominate the field, attracting the best talent and much of the funding, while creating a climate in which emerging physicists are often penalized for pursuing other avenues. The situation threatens to impede the very progress of science.   With clarity, passion, and authority, Smolin offers an unblinking assessment of the troubles that face modern physics, and an encouraging view of where the search for the next big idea may lead.   “The best book about contemporary science written for the layman that I have ever read.” — The Times (London)  

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The Trouble with Physics – Lee Smolin

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The Camp Fire’s flames were deadly. Its smoke could be even more dangerous.

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A year of fire and relentless heat has spilled over into a grimy, smoky, full-blown public health crisis in northern California.

While the epicenter of the Camp Fire’s gruesome tragedy is in the town of Paradise, where 63 people are known to have died and 631 are still missing, many more people in the region are suffering from the life-threatening impact of wildfire smoke.

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar officially declared a public health emergency for California on Tuesday, and since then, air quality conditions have only gotten worse.

On Thursday, northern California’s Air Quality Index, a measure of how polluted the air is, was the worst of any region in the world. Chico, Oroville, and Sacramento reported pollution levels in the “hazardous” category — the highest on the scale — topping parts of China and India and breaking records for the worst air quality in the area since record keeping began. It’s the equivalent of smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day.

Friday is the eighth consecutive day that millions of people in Northern California are breathing wildfire smoke. Public health officials fear that chronic smoke inhalation could lead to a whole suite of new health problems, like those seen in Asian megacities.

The smoke in the region is so bad, it’s disrupting the regular flow of life. The vast majority of schools are closed across the Bay Area. The cable cars in San Francisco have stopped running. Flights are being delayed due to reduced visibility. Cars are forced to use headlights in the middle of the day.

The current smoke emergency mirrors one earlier this year in the Pacific Northwest, which darkened the skies over Seattle for days.

So far, there hasn’t been a noticeable uptick in emergency room visits across California, but that’s likely to change. Past studies show that particulate pollution, like smoke, aggravates pre-existing conditions, especially in seniors. Young children are particularly at-risk because they are still growing and tend to be more active than adults. Homeless populations, farmworkers, and low-income residents are all especially vulnerable because they are more likely to work and live in places where it’s difficult to avoid exposure to the pollution.

Smoke, not flames, is the deadliest public health risk of wildfires. The fine-grain air pollution it carries (classified as particulate matter fewer than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) is already one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. — an estimated 17,000 people die of wildfire smoke-related causes each year. By the end of the century, it could cause twice as many deaths as it does now — to 44,000 each year.

Each year, wildfire smoke leads to thousands of premature deaths, much more than other types of extreme weather. It often hits with little warning, adversely affecting people who aren’t prepared in places hundreds of miles away from the fires.This summer, when wildfires broke out in British Columbia, public health alerts were issued as far away as Minnesota — roughly 2,000 miles east of the fires.

Across the world, more than 7 million people die each year due to air pollution from smoke and exhaust from fossil fuel burning. A study last month from the World Health Organization found that more than 90 percent of children in the world breathe toxic air every day.

Air pollution caused by wildfires is a problem that’s just going to keep getting worse thanks to climate change. As drier and hotter weather continues to intensify the fire season — creating the conditions for massively destructive wildfires like the Camp Fire — the number of people affected by smoke on the West Coast is expected to increase by 50 percent in just the next two decades.

This week’s smoke outbreak should remind us that, as we talk about preparing for future fire catastrophes, we need to also prepare for their wider public health impacts.

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The Camp Fire’s flames were deadly. Its smoke could be even more dangerous.

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Entire cities evacuate as hellish wildfires whip through California

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A trio of rapidly expanding wildfires are burning in California, marking the latest in a string of harrowing climate-related disasters in America.

The Camp Fire has killed at least five people and destroyed 2,000 buildings in the Northern California city of Paradise. The fire is already the fourth most destructive wildfire in state history, but those numbers are almost certain to increase once officials survey the area more completely.

In Southern California, low humidity combined with strong offshore Santa Ana winds prompted the National Weather Service to issue an “extremely critical” fire weather alert, its highest warning for wildfire risk. Two fires there are rapidly expanding towards the coast causing the city of Malibu to evacuate.

These are firestorms — towering, fast-moving walls of flames hundreds of feet high — the kind of fires that are not only uncontrolled by firefighters, but uncontrollable. In Southern California, fire burning through wind-whipped palm trees on Thursday resembled a hurricane.

“This is the new normal,” Los Angeles County Fire Captain Erik Scott told a local television station. “When we have conditions like this, when it’s such incredible wind, that brings us into a different caliber.” Acting California Governor Gavin Newsom has requested an emergency presidential disaster declaration from Trump to speed the flow of federal aid to victims.

Meteorologists marvelled at the “gut-wrenching” rate of spread Thursday’s fires exhibited. At one point, the Camp Fire was consuming 80 football fields worth of land per minute, fueled by winds of up to 50 mph. That fire grew more than 20-fold in about six hours just before it overtook the town of Paradise, home to about 27,000 people. By nightfall, the fire had expanded in size to 70,000 acres, and was just 5 percent contained. A reporter’s video caught a fire tornado on camera, an exclamation mark on a truly hellish scene:

By all accounts, the scrambled evacuation of Paradise was harrowing. There were reports of people abandoning their vehicles trapped in heavy traffic, clutching children and running for safety under blackened skies. At least one cluster of about 70 people were airlifted from a Walgreens. Video from the exodus is nightmare-inducing, and is difficult to watch. During the height of the blaze, firefighters completely surrendered firefighting duties in order to focus on rescuing people.

On Friday morning, gruesomely burned cars littered the side of the road. “The whole town is gone,” Gianna Wallace, a survivor, told Sacramento Bee reporter Ryan Sabalow. That assessment was echoed by Scott McLean, a spokesperson for CALFIRE, who told the Los Angeles Times that the Camp Fire “has destroyed the town.”

Smoke from the fire drifted in a huge plume and set off smoke alarms as far away as San Francisco, nearly 150 miles away.

In Southern California, two fires burned near the town of Thousand Oaks with towering smoke clouds visible at the site of a mass shooting where a gunman killed more than a dozen people just hours earlier. The Hill Fire caused an evacuation of Cal State University-Channel Islands and about 1,000 homes. More worrying is the Woolsey Fire, which threatens about 75,000 homes in both Ventura and Los Angeles Counties — including the entire city of Malibu. At least one family was grieving both tragedies, losing a loved one in the shooting and being forced to evacuate because of the fire all within 24 hours, according to the Los Angeles Times.

This week’s fires come just months after July’s Carr Fire destroyed large parts of Redding, California, and a little over a year after the Tubbs Fire devastated Napa and Sonoma Counties — the most damaging wildfire on record in California. Six of California’s 10 worst fires on record have come in just the past three years.

After an exceptionally hot and dry summer, the vegetation in Northern California near one of the fires is the driest ever measured so late in the year.

Rapidly expanding wildfires in California are part of a worrying trend across the West and around the world that is attributable to climate change. Two human-related trends are most responsible: More people are moving to areas prone to fire while hotter, drier weather is making fires blossom and spread more quickly. Wildfire seasons are lengthening as temperatures rise and droughts become more frequent. Over the past 40 years, the area burned by wildfire across the West has doubled. Globally, the surge in burning forests is making warming worse, too, expelling nearly half as much as all industrial sources worldwide in the worst years.

This week’s fires, along with the countless other recent record-breaking weather disasters, send a clear message: The era of climate consequences is here. We should treat this as the emergency it is.

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Entire cities evacuate as hellish wildfires whip through California

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New York just filed a big ol’ lawsuit against ExxonMobil

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Donald Trump has said time and time again that he only hires “the best people.” He sure ends up firing them a lot, too. That may have been a wise decision with his former secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who was implicated in a major lawsuit filed on Wednesday. The issue at hand? Climate change.

In a blistering series of tweets, New York Interim Attorney General Barbara Underwood laid out the basic tenets of her office’s lawsuit against ExxonMobil. The suit alleges that Exxon — formerly run by Tillerson — tricked investors with a “longstanding fraudulent scheme” that downplayed the financial risks climate change regulation posed to the company.

Unlike other climate change lawsuits, like those launched by California or Colorado in recent months, this one doesn’t seek to hold Exxon responsible for its role in creating climate change. In a nutshell, this case is about fraud: lying to someone to get their money.

Underwood’s lawsuit argues that Exxon overstated how prepared the company was for the tough regulations that are necessary to combat climate change. She hopes to prove that Exxon told investors one thing while doing another. Climate change regulations can take a toll on fossil fuel businesses. Exxon said it was (and still currently is) taking steps to make sure that toll doesn’t hurt its interests, but the receipts say otherwise.

Will Exxon wiggle out of this suit like it wiggled out of lawsuits by the cities of Oakland, San Francisco, and even a previous lawsuit launched by New York City? It’s already argued that these lawsuits a) limit its right to free speech and b) are a big conspiracy. And the company has even counter-sued the people taking it to court!

But, again, this new lawsuit takes a different tack. In the event that it succeeds, it would require the oil company to cough up all the money it made from investors through climate fraud, and then pay back its investors. That’s a lot of dough, but we don’t yet know exactly how much — Underwood’s lawsuit doesn’t include a final sum.

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New York just filed a big ol’ lawsuit against ExxonMobil

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