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Two years ago, a paper came out arguing that America could cheaply power itself on wind, water, and solar energy alone. It was a big deal. Policy makers began relying on the study. A nonprofit launched to make the vision a reality. Celebrities got on board. We named the lead author of the study, Stanford University professor Mark Jacobson, one of our Grist 50.
Now that research is under scrutiny. On Monday, 21 scientists published a paper that pointed out unrealistic assumptions in Jacobson’s analysis. For instance, Jacobson’s analysis relies on the country’s dams releasing water “equivalent to about 100 times the flow of the Mississippi River” to meet electricity demand as solar power ramps down in the evening, one of the critique’s lead authors, Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science, told the New York Times.
Jacobson immediately fired back, calling his critics “nuclear and fossil fuel supporters” and implying the authors had sold out to industry. This is just wrong. These guys aren’t shills.
It’s essentially a family feud, a conflict between people who otherwise share the same goals. Jacobson’s team thinks we can make a clean break from fossil fuels with renewables alone. Those critiquing his study think we need to be weaned off, with the help of nuclear, biofuels, and carbon capture.
Grist intends to take a deeper look at this subject in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.
If cities are the future of sustainability, they can’t only be green — they have to be livable, too. Enter Ritchie Torres, New York City’s youngest elected official, hell-bent on making the city more affordable for its most vulnerable inhabitants. Torres, who is Afro-Latino and the first openly LGBT politician from the Bronx, cut his political teeth as a tenant organizer. He ran for city council in 2013 at the behest of a mentor who saw potential in the self-described introvert — and won.
The young councilman’s driving issue is affordable housing, because, he says, “there can be no city without housing.” Torres grew up in Throggs Neck public housing directly across the street from Donald Trump’s golf course — as Torres puts it, with Trump’s shadow hanging “both literally and metaphorically over public housing.”
Torres is taking on the health, safety, and sustainability of public housing in New York from all angles: eliminating mold infestation, requiring more carbon-conservative building materials, and creating the first LGBT youth shelter in the Bronx.
For those young people who may feel inspired to seek political office themselves, Torres provides these words of encouragement: “The lesson from 2016 is that millennials are more powerful than we realize — it was the only ray of hope in an otherwise dark election year.”
Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.
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