Climate protest via self-sacrifice is on the rise globally. Extinction Rebellion activists in the UK, for instance, have started to deliberately seek imprisonment. Hunger strikes are seemingly everywhere. And then there’s the ultimate sacrifice, self-immolation. 50-year old Colorado activist Wynn Bruce burned alive on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court on Earth Day last month.
I reported on this abnormal new normal from the inside for The Tyee, visiting veteran British Columbia activist and hunger striker Howard Breen.
What drives Breen and his comrades-in-nonviolence? Can their highly-polarizing sacrificial protests accelerate climate protection, or will they be written-off as misguided and/or mentally ill? Read the story @TheTyee.
In August 2020 over 18 months of reporting paid off with my investigative feature Who Killed The Supergrid – an InvestigateWest production co-published with The Atlantic. Today that work and its immediate impact was recognized with an investigative journalism award from Covering Climate Now. That consortium, created in 2019 by the Columbia Journalism Review, The Nation, The Guardian and WNYC, has since grown into a who’s who of international media, and I’m honoured that they picked my work from more than 600 nominated entries.
In the words of the judges:
This meticulous story revealed the Trump administration’s deliberate effort to bury a federally funded study that provided evidence that a connected super grid would accelerate the growth of wind and solar energy. The story made the abstraction of the nation’s power grid interesting, and Fairley’s explosive disclosures also led to regulatory change.
Individual panelists added commentary during the video awards celebration (see below). Giles Trendle, Managing editor for Al Jazeera English, called my story, “another great example of holding power to account.”
I have thanked many of the talented people who contributed to this success in the Twitter thread at right. But a few bear repeating:
My friend, longtime SEJ colleague, and editor Robert McClure, co-founder of InvestigateWest, jumped at the opportunity to take on my project and helped me take it all the way. I’m grateful that ‘just good enough’ isn’t in Robert’s DNA.
The team at The Atlantic, including Ellen Cushing and Faith Hill, further improved the prose and managed a very thorough fact check.
FYI the awards video hosted by ‘America’s weatherman’ Al Roker and NBC Live NOW anchor Savannah Sellers showcases all of the 2021 award program’s winning entries from around the world. It’s inspiring and informative. Definitely worth watching, and sharing…
In August my exposé in The Atlantic detailed the Trump administration takedown of a clean energy study. Since then I have been working hard to document how deep the political interference goes at the U.S. Department of Energy. The answer is DEEP.
My story for InvestigateWest and Grist shows that political interference is a pervasive practice targeting research funded by the DOE’s efficiency and renewables office. In all, Trump appointees have blocked reports for more than 40 clean energy studies, according to emails and documents I obtained as well as interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees at the Department of Energy and its national labs.
“There are dozens of reports languishing right now that can’t be published,” said Stephen Capanna, a former director of strategic analysis for the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy — the office that Simmons runs — who quit in frustration in April 2019. “This is a systemic issue.”
Bottling up and slow-walking studies violates the Energy Department’s scientific integrity policy and is already harming efforts to fight climate change, according to energy and policy experts, because Energy Department reports drive investment decisions. Entrepreneurs worry that the agency’s practices under the current White House will ultimately hurt growth prospects for U.S.-developed technology.
The meddling is also fuelling an energy science brain drain. Not only because research is held up. But because scientists have no idea why their work is disappearing. They, and the research they’re waiting to publish, are simply left dangling. “There’s no feedback,” said one national lab researcher. “It just goes into a black hole.”
On August 14, 2018, Joshua Novacheck, a 30-year-old research engineer for the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, was presenting the most important study of his nascent career. He couldn’t have known it yet, but things were about to go very wrong.
At a gathering of experts and policy makers in Lawrence, Kansas, Novacheck was sharing the results of the Interconnections Seam Study, better known as Seams. The Seams study demonstrated that stronger connections between the U.S. power system’s massive eastern and western power grids would accelerate the growth of wind and solar energy—hugely reducing American reliance on coal, the fuel contributing the most to climate change, and saving consumers billions. It was an elegant solution to a complicated problem.
Democrats in Congress have recently cited NREL’s work to argue for billions in grid upgrades and sweeping policy changes. But a study like Seams was politically dangerous territory for a federally funded lab while coal-industry advocates—and climate-change deniers—reign in the White House. The Trump administration has a long history of protecting coal companies, and unfortunately for Novacheck, a representative was sitting in the audience…
This investigative feature, a co-production for The Atlantic and Seattle-based nonprofit journalism studio InvestigateWest, has been over 18 months in the making. I had the story at the outset, but I needed documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act to back-up — and protect — my sources.
Dual debuts in this critical investigation of cross-laminated timber — multi-ton panels built from lumber that are the hottest material in “sustainable” building. It’s my debut work for Seattle-based nonprofit reporting outfit InvestigateWest as well as my first article in MIT-based science magazineUndark, which co-published the finished product.
Spoiler alert: CLT producers promote their building material as a climate solution because their giant wood panels can replace energy-intensive concrete and steel construction. My investigation reveals that the carbon accounting behind their claim is oversimplified, and too many journalists give short shrift to concerns from sustainable materials experts.
Take one study of CLT’s carbon footprint that VOX’s high-profile sustainability writer David Roberts called a “soup-to-nuts lifecycle analysis.” My look under the hood revealed a huge pile of nuts that’s left out: nearly all of the carbon flows into and out of forests harvested to supply CLT manufacturing plants with lumber. One of my expert sources calls that a “gaping hole” in the industry’s standard carbon-counting methodology.
It’s a particularly egregious gap for CLT assembled from lumber from British Columbia, where timber firms remove far more carbon every year than BC’s fire and infestation-ravaged forestscan regrow.
Transmission lines in the United States and Canada require approval from every state and province traversed, and that political fragmentation hinders deployment of long power links of the type connecting vast swaths of territory in regions such as China, India, and Brazil. As a result, few studies detail how technologies that efficiently move power over thousands of kilometers, such as ultrahigh-voltage direct current (UHV DC) systems, might perform in North America. Earlier this week, the Beijing-based Global Energy Interconnection Development and Cooperation Organization (GEIDCO) stepped in to fill that gap, outlining an ambitious upgrade for North America’s grids.
GEIDCO’s plan promises to greatly shrink North America’s carbon footprint, but its boldest prescriptions represent technical and economic optimizations that run counter to political interests and recent trends. “Thinking out of the box is how you solve complicated, difficult problems,” said former Southern California Edison CEO Ted Craver in response to the plan. But GEIDCO’s approach, he said, raises concerns about energy sovereignty that could prove difficult to settle. As Craver put it: “There’s theory and then there’s practice.”
For nearly two weeks last November, smoke from the Camp fire drained 150 miles down the Central Valley and out toward the sea, engulfing Sacramento and the whole Bay Area. San Francisco looked — and breathed — like New Delhi, the world’s most polluted city. Miles away in the mountain town of Paradise, the fast-moving conflagration killed 85 people — making the Camp fire the deadliest wildfire in state history. But pollution research suggests that once heart attacks and respiratory-related deaths are factored in, its soot was even more deadly than its flames. Based on earlier pollution studies, we project that soot from the Camp fire caused about 100 premature deaths just in the San Francisco Bay Area and hundreds more hospitalizations and emergency room visits than normal.