#232: You Did This

Quinn Emmett
May 28, 2021
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Welcome back, Shit Givers.

Welcome to the 354 new readers since last week’s issue.

Many of you received a new Do Better Better essay this week, and as usual, you had awesome feedback.

Quick apologies to new folks for any confusion:

I inadvertently left out the introduction bits explaining what exactly Do Better Better is, and how it’s different from the Friday newsletter (2x month original essays to help you think about the future, today). Fun!

We’ve got some big news coming next week, but in the meantime, let’s giveaway a $500 gift card to Bookshop, shall we?

When you share the newsletter today using your unique referral link, you get entered into a raffle to win the $500 gift card.

The more you share, the better chance you have (1 referral = 1 ticket).

Click to share now.

Let’s get to the news.

In brief: A brutal day for oil; paying for climate protection; vaccine inequities; fungi on the move, not great; wastewater, so hot right now; facial recognition on the way out -- for now

This Week

You did this.

Well, maybe not you, and maybe not this, but the answer to “how to fight the climate crisis” isn’t do X, not Y, it’s “get as many people on board to do everything we can do, right now”.

Fossil fuel companies have spent decades trying to get you to feel guilty for your carbon footprint. To make this your fault.

And while the Global North has a hell of a lot of work to do to reduce emissions to zero, and then go negative, it was never about you.

It was about them.

But this week, following an IEA report that said “No mas gas”, you took it to them, on every front.

First, a Dutch court told Shell to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030 after a phalanx of environmental groups sued them.

Next up, 60% of Chevron’s shareholders voted to not only reduce emissions in production, but in the eventual products in sells (commonly referred to as Scope 3).

Third, a little Engine (No. 1) that could investment firm, hell-bent on cleaning up the place, bought a tiny bit of Exxon -- and just enough to win at least 2 board seats at the former S&P polluter.

And finally, Joe Biden dropped a budget that eliminates fossil fuel subsidies. Bye, fam.

Will Shell and Chevron appeal, fight back, bite and kick? For sure. Will Exxon go carbon-free tomorrow? Of course not.

But these are significant developments, and may just be a tipping point -- and not one of the terrifying ones!

It matters because shareholders said so, and so pension funds and firms like BlackRock said so, and now those companies could face binding legal action for the damage they continue to cause, and more companies could face more legal action, because of these steps.

And that threat, real for the first time, means the circle might come back around, as Wall Street -- supposedly betting on future earnings -- finally realizes the power sector (as we’ve known it for a hundred years) is dead in the water.

Because of you.

Measurable Action Steps matter.

Divestment matters. Engagement matters. Voting matters. Funding clean tech matters.

Buying solar and encouraging your neighbors and cities to do so, matters. Educating girls matters.

Acknowledging recycling sucks, so declaring plastic toxic, matters.

Demanding electrified postal trucks and school buses and trees in redlined neighborhood matters.

Fossil fuel production is still way the hell over what we can handle if we want to stay under 1.5, but every victory matters.

Doing Better Better matters.

Climate Change & Clean Energy

We need to talk about resilience

Understand this: Eliminating emissions on every level will make a world of difference, but make no mistake: it’s here now, and across the board, we’re not ready.

  • The dry, hot, tinderbox that is the US west suffered enormous, wide-reaching blackouts in 2020. They’ve installed tons of batteries hoping to prevent the same in 2021. Is it enough?
  • Of the 100 global cities most vulnerable to environmental issues, 99 are in Asia
  • But 1 in 4 cities cannot afford adequate climate crisis protection measures
  • US park rangers have acknowledge not all of every park can be conserved. What goes, and what stays?
  • Miami has appointed a chief heat officer

What it means: Across the planet, climate disasters may have caused more internal displacement than war in 2020.

In the US, where it’s May and FEMA is already exhausted and mostly tapped out, Biden said he’ll spend $1 billion to help state and local governments reduce vulnerabilities.

Is it enough?

“We’re going to spare no expense, no effort, to keep Americans safe,” Mr. Biden during a visit Monday to FEMA’s headquarters for a briefing on this year’s hurricane season. “We can never be too prepared.”

The new money is less than what some disaster experts had said is needed, especially because the warming planet is making storms, flooding, wildfires and other disasters both more frequent and destructive.

The United States experienced 22 disasters that exceeded $1 billion each in damages last year, a record.”


⚡️ Action Step: This tool blows my mind. Find case studies, tools, and experts to build resilience in your city to stressors like increased wildfires, flooding, heat, sea-level rise and more, with the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit.


All things being equal, vaccine distribution isn’t

Understand this: 50% of American adults might be vaccinated, but America’s gonna America.

Half of those without shots are concerned about missing work, because of course, meanwhile, from KHN:

“KHN’s analysis shows that only 22% of Black Americans have gotten a shot, and Black rates still trail those of whites in almost every state.

Targeted efforts have raised vaccination rates among other minority groups. Hispanics in eight states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are now vaccinated at higher rates than non-Hispanic whites. Yet 29% of Hispanics are vaccinated nationally, compared with 33% of whites.

While 45% of Native Americans have received at least one dose, stark differences exist depending on where they live. And Asian vaccination rates are high in most states, with 41% getting a shot.”

What it means: It means we have to do a hell of a lot better, Steve.

⚡️ Action Step: Use template outreach and education letters and organize vaccine presentations with these tools, and then help marginalized friends find vaccines near them here

Medicine & Biotech

Mushroom pizza, moldy cheese, and a scarier pandemic

Understand this: From the civilization that brought you Black Death and COVID, comes C. auris!

From Scientific American:

“Fungi constitute their own biological kingdom of about six million diverse species, ranging from common companions such as baking yeast to wild exotics. They differ from the other kingdoms in complex ways.

Unlike animals, they have cell walls, not membranes; unlike plants, they cannot make their own food; unlike bacteria, they hold their DNA within a nucleus and pack cells with organelles—features that make them, at the cellular level, weirdly similar to us.”

What it means: We spend so much time and bandwidth (ok nowhere near as much as we need to) on viruses and bacteria, we overlook maybe our greatest threat.

And a warming world is making it worse.

The answer? Vaccines. And we might be getting closer, according to John Galgiani, professor and director of the Valley Fever Center for Excellence at the University of Arizona College of Medicine.

⚡️ Action Step: Get educated. Read the article above, and then listen to the tremendous Radiolab “Fungus Amungus” episode from 2020.

Food & Water

Aqua exceptionalism

Understand this: Across the US, water shortages are becoming a part of life. And not just from busted pipes, lead pipes, and unpaid COVID utility bills.

In the west, water allotments and deliveries are being slashed because legacy sources like the Colorado River are severely diminished.

Farms are at stake. Crops are at stake. Lives are at stake.

What it means: We need to find another source of drinking water. Desalination is awesome, but expensive, a massive energy suck, and leaves a mountain of salt we’re not sure what to do with.

Enter recycled wastewater.

Is it sexy? Of course not. But it works, it’s efficient, and it’s not resource-constrained.

US wastewater recycling has lagged behind other parched countries for decades now, but the time for giving a shit has never been better.

⚡️ Action Step: Water is a human right.

Call your rep to insist they co-sponsor the WATER Act -- it’ll help communities across the country repair and restore ancient water systems, and lose lead pipes.

AI & Data

I see you

Understand this: Few new technologies been so invasive, and failed so spectacularly, as commercial facial recognition software, like Amazon’s Recognition.

It’s not accurate, it’s racist, its legacy to date is false arrests and bans.

What it means: Three separate bills are working their way through Congress, including the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would prevent the use of facial recognition in body cameras, and the Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale Act, which would boot providers who break their terms of service.

⚡️ Action Step: The George Floyd Act passed the House. So use 5Calls.org’s script and call button to call your senator and demand they vote for it (scared of talking to another human? Just leave a message after hours -- those count, too).

The Round Up

The clean tech rush is just getting started

Facebook said they’d stop recommending anti-vaxx groups. You’ll never guess what happened next.

How to supercharge vaccine production for the next pandemic

Immunity to SARS-CoV-2 may last a year -- or much longer (it’s early and viruses are complicated)

Invasive pests and plants in Africa -- on the rise thanks to climate change -- may total $3.5 trillion a year

Google -- who recently fired most of their Ethics in AI team, many of whom were women and people of color, for fighting for more ethics -- designed a dermatology app, but the image dataset it trained on was 90% white

Debt relief payments to minority farmers start in June. Banks are not pleased.

Crabcakes, football, and NIMBY’s -- it’s what America does. What will they have to say about wind farms?

We should try to make sure rare earth metals don’t cause the next resource wars

  • Go Deeper: understand the battery supply chain

Will solar power rewrite the EU’s power structure?

Coastal dead zones -- torched by agricultural runoff and waste -- might be saved by seaweed. Love kelp!

Important Pod Guests - In The News

All We Can Save, edited by Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Dr. Katharine Wilkinson, is coming to paperback!

Dr. Leah Stokes throws shade at new gas facilities

Orsola de Castro on Gen Z’s focus on sustainable fashion

Julian Brave Noisecat points out that CNN has never had a regular on-air Native reporter or commentator

Fred Guttenberg testified against the gun lobby

Nina Lakhani wrote a beautiful feature on Karen Washington

Yesim Sayin Taylor testified on public health emergency next steps

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has grown tired of GOP infrastructure and says it’s time to build. Let’s go.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for giving a shit.

-- Quinn

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