Clash of the atom smashers?

Hello from beautiful Flint, Michigan, where I’ve been attending the annual Society of Environmental Journalists conference since Wednesday.

I toured the reclaimed Detroit waterfront, attended Intercept muckraker Sharon Lerner’s rockstar panel on PFAS contamination, and watched The New York Times’ Eric Lipton spar with former EPA air office chief Jeff Holmstead (shout out to The Guardian’s Emily Holden for moderating that one). Oh, and I talked about climate change in extreme weather coverage on a panel with Climate Central’s John Upton, Scientific American’s Andrea Thompson and Grist’s Justine Calma, who, as we both discovered, lives on the floor above me in my building back in New York. Turns out it’s a closer-knit industry than we thought.

The organizers recorded our panel, which I expect will be on here at some point. Otherwise, enjoy this doofy pic:

During my trip last month to Dongguan, the teeming industrial city in China’s southern Guangdong province, I toured the newly-opened China Spallation Neutron Source. The sprawling facility, nestled in a secluded green hillside, marks a historic leap forward for China. The laboratory puts the country in the elite club of roughly half a dozen nations with super-expensive, gigantic particle accelerators capable of performing a type of testing called neutron scattering, where scientists smash protons into metal -- in China’s case, tungsten -- to determine the molecular structure of substances. It’s a complicated process, but basically what happens is neutrons spall from the tungsten and, among other factors, the distance they travel from the metal source provides scientists critical information that can be used to improve lithium batteries, treat cancer and determine how an airplane wing broke.

While I was there, I met Tong Xin, the new senior scientist. Until five days before our meeting, he went by Tony Tong, and worked at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. He spent 10 years there. It’s the only major neutron scattering lab in the United States, and has long been considered the best in the world. Tong had a lot of reasons for returning to his native China, including to be close to his parents. But he may not be the only researcher leaving United States.

Over the past two years, the Trump administration has taken the extraordinary step of attempting to cut Oak Ridge’s funding by slashing the budget at the Department of Energy, it’s funder. Congress ultimately rejected the president’s proposed cuts, even giving the lab a small boost last year. But for a high-cost area of research, where experiments can take up to five years to plan, those uncertainties over funding could pose a major threat to the United States’ longstanding status as the unrivaled scientific leader as new opportunities present themselves in countries that don’t shy away from big public projects.

You can read more here.

Quotable Menschen

“It is a fucking terrifying possibility.”

--A business owner in London talking to the FT about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s economic redistribution plans.

“These are not emerging contaminants. They’ve emerged. They emerged 60 years ago.”

--Rob Bilott, the lawyer whose suit against DuPont exposed the health crisis posed by PFAS contamination in water, making a plea to journalists at SEJ.

“The air quality will be better at the end of this administration than before.”

--Jeff Holmstead during his SEJ appearance.

“Are you fucking kidding me.”

“Jesus Christ.”


--The responses to Holmstead from audience members at SEJ. (They were not exclusively journalists).

🚰  🚰 🚰

Detroit’s notorious water shutoffs are disappearing from the gubernatorial election. That’s according to Detroit Free Press reporter Kat Stafford.

During an SEJ conference event, she said Abdul El Sayed, the former Detroit health commissioner whose progressive bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination drew national attention, made a major campaign issue of the crisis that began in 2014 when the city started cutting off water to ratepayers behind on their bills.

Since May, the city turned off water for 11,422 people, and only 8,559 of those have had service restored, Michigan Radio reported. Since El Sayed lost to Gretchen Whitmer, the establishment favorite, in August, candidates stopped talking about the shutoffs, Stafford said.

🌡️  🌡️ 🌡️

A devastating new global climate report is due out tonight. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations’ consortium of climate researchers, is set to release a long-awaited paper outlining what would need to happen for global warming to halt at 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, above pre-industrial levels. Don’t expect something optimistic.

🚱  🚱 🚱

The chemical giants behind the fluorochemicals contaminating water around the country are facing a national class-action lawsuit.

An Ohio firefighter filed the suit against 3M, DuPont and Chemours, according to a report from The Intercept.

👩‍🔬  👩‍🔬 👩‍🔬

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) introduced a bill Friday to address rampant sexual harassment in the scientific community.

“Recently there have been a disturbing number of sexual harassment allegations emerging across our society, including in the scientific workforce and academia,” she said in a statement. “This is by no means a new phenomenon, but this troubling behavior is now beginning to receive the attention it deserves.”

🗳️  🗳️ 🗳️

Progressive stalwart Keith Ellison could become the next Minnesota attorney general at a time when states’ top cops are spearheading critical climate lawsuits.

But, as this dispatch from my colleague Daniel Marans outlines, an ex-girlfriend’s abuse allegations are looming over the 55-year-old, six-term Democratic congressman’s campaign.


  • Amanda Luz Henning Santiago has a wonderful piece on Mashable about online seed-swapping communities, whose members are trying to build libraries of rare species.

  • Kendra Pierre-Louis published a nice, concise report on why plastics -- far from just being a source of garbage pollution -- are the biggest and fastest-growing source of the petrochemical industry’s climate emissions.

  • Joshua Siegel checked in on whether the Trump administration made good on its promise to require federally-funded infrastructure projects to consider future flood risks. It hasn’t.

  • Claire Fallon wrote about the hucksters of Instagram poetry, and it’s too good for me to put into words.

  • Emily Holden has a great story tracking the White House’s ongoing race to roll back environmental regulations.

  • Maxwell Strachan and Molly Redden decided to answer the question: Has #MeToo gone too far? So they called a bunch of fancy New York restaurants to request a table for Harvey Weinstein. Take a look.

Thanks for reading This Anthropogenic Life. You’re the whole reason I do it, really. Share the love. The more people who read this, the better. Forward it to your friends and coworkers. Sign your climate-denier uncle up without his knowing. It’s free!