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We Don’t Need Supersonic Travel—in the “New Normal,” We Should Slow Down

Money from the Koch foundations gets put to many purposes—do you think that there’s a significant amount that ends up funding climate denial on campuses?

The money can be difficult to track once it makes its way to schools. And the connection may not always be clear at first. With George Washington University and the Regulatory Studies Center, there’s a direct line. In other places, such as George Mason University, which has received nearly a hundred and eighty million dollars from Koch foundations since 2005, the connection is less transparent. The school itself isn’t putting out climate-denial data, but it produces lawyers, lobbyists, politicians, and judges who could enact a climate-denial agenda.

How are students responding to news of this funding? And what about faculty?

We have student and staff organizers on the ground who have been pushing back against Koch money for a while, so to see the numbers laid out plainly at their schools and others reminds them what they have been fighting for. We’ve found that, when it comes to faculty, many are tentative about speaking out because of potential repercussions.

Many people might say, ‘It’s their money, they can do what they want with it.’ How do you explain to them why you think it’s dangerous?

The money itself isn’t dangerous—it’s the strings and conditions attached to it where we start to see the harm. When donations dictate what curriculum or textbooks are being taught, what faculty is hired or fired, or exert influence over school fellowships, then it becomes a matter of academic freedom.

Climate School

Utilities are increasingly pairing wind and solar power, usually with a battery to store power. Power magazine quotes an analyst explaining why: “The cost for projects involving solar, wind, and storage have certainly come down in recent years. Storage in particular has become much more competitive. Two to three years ago, the costs were simply too high and didn’t make economic sense. But while the price tag has gotten smaller, the economic feasibility of projects that combine renewables with storage remains jurisdictionally dependent. As the old real-estate adage goes, ‘location, location, location.’ ”

Ella Nilsen at Vox offers a detailed analysis of a problem that I laid out a few weeks ago: until there’s a better national network of charging stations, it may be hard to persuade more buyers to opt for electric vehicles. She quotes an expert, saying, “In San Francisco, there’s a huge congestion problem, and there are simply not enough plugs for EVs in that metro area. There is congestion in areas where EV demand has flourished. If we don’t get going on this, we will have roadblocks, especially for longer trips.”

Campaigners at Fossil Free Netherlands—who were involved in the recent case that led a Dutch court to demand that Royal Dutch Shell cut emissions forty-five per cent, and who won a ban on fossil-fuel ads in Amsterdam’s metro stations—signed their name to a report detailing the ways that “social tipping points” could speed climate action. The authors say that governments should push for new technology, but that this will happen faster and mean more if lawmakers eliminate “fossil subsidies, and invest that money to help citizens, businesses, and organizations become more sustainable.” Meanwhile, that Dutch court ruling continues to spark insightful analysis. The international human-rights lawyer Tessa Khan, writing in the Guardian, reckons that “it is hard to overstate the consequences of a decision that is already being hailed as a turning point for big oil. Given the replicability of the arguments and the international standards and common facts that comprise the basis of the case, it will inspire a wave of similar actions around the world.”

Rebecca Leber offers some of her always illuminating reporting, this time singling out the Permian Basin in Texas as the place that may tell the story about the future of oil and gas in the United States. She writes that relying on state regulators is unlikely to get much done: authorities in Texas have rubber-stamped thirty-five thousand requests to flare heat-trapping methane from wells, without issuing a single denial.

Scoreboard

A new report from the N.G.O. Amazon Watch details the holdings of the three biggest asset managers—BlackRock, State Street, and Vanguard—in oil companies that operate in the world’s largest rain forest. The total of those investments is forty-six billion dollars, and, the report says, the oil companies are often linked to human-rights abuses and deforestation in the region.

The Wall Street Journal has noticed that a nationwide “battle brews” over bans on connecting gas to new home construction, writing that this has “the potential to reshape the future of the utility industry, and demand for natural gas.” Another advance in that fight came last week, when activists in the town of Brookline, Massachusetts, persuaded the annual town meeting to make new construction permits conditional on an agreement to go fossil-free.

A new study in the journal Nature Climate Change states that thirty-seven per cent of heat-related deaths around the world are attributable to the excess heat that attends the climate crisis. As John Schwartz summarizes, in the Times, “Climate change has added to overall mortality from all causes by as much as 5 percent in some parts of the world, the authors found; they detected increased mortality from climate-boosted heat on every inhabited continent.”

Over the years, researchers have learned that wolves play a key role in restoring ecosystems, by reining in prey, such as deer, that can overbrowse trees and shrubs. A new study has found that wolves also save human lives—by reducing deer numbers, they cut fatal car collisions.

Warming Up

Given the subject of today’s newsletter, I can perhaps be forgiven for admitting a fondness for the 5th Dimension and its treatment of lighter-than-air travel. For good measure, here is Hugh Masekela’s version.

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