John Morales is looking for higher ground

Hello from beautiful Astoria, Queens, where -- after a month of travel -- I am very happy to be home. It’s actually feeling like fall weather (for now), and you better believe I broke out a sweater and bought apple cider doughnuts for the first time this season.

A few announcements:

  • My wonderful editor, Kate Sheppard, gave birth Friday to a beautiful, healthy baby girl named Zora Hazel Sheppard Freelon. Congrats to her, Deen and newly-promoted big brother August.

  • Kate is on maternity leave until February, so please feel free to send climate and environment pitches my way in the meantime. I’ll also be running out end of the Climate Desk partnership in her absence.

  • We are celebrating Larry Bush, the long-time editor of Jewish Currents, at a retirement gala this afternoon at Corkbuzz at 13 E 13th Street. Come celebrate with us from noon to 3 p.m.

  • As a reporter, I make a rule of never donating to causes. This GoFundMe to help the Moira Donegan, the creator of the Shitty Media Men list, defend herself against an alleged rapist’s $1.5 million lawsuit felt like a worthy exception. You might consider doing the same.

  • HuffPost is hiring for more than a dozen positions! We at the union put together a convenient Twitter thread listing the openings here.

A week before hurricane season began in June, I flew down to Miami to spend a few days with John Morales, the bilingual NBC weathercaster in Miami. He took me to mangrove parks where he watched historic storm surges engulf restaurants and rock towering palms. He recounted the horror of warning his friends and octogenarian mother in Puerto Rico, where he grew up, of what was to come before Hurricane Maria made landfall last year. He drove me past giant waterfront towers and bemoaned what he called the “paradox of cities like Miami Beach” -- the need for more development to increase the tax base to pay for the climate-related damage that the development will incur. A vicious cycle.

Over espresso one morning in his beautiful home in Coconut Grove, he casually shared what might be the most unintentionally perfect origin story I’ve ever heard. He was born on May 13, 1962, in Schenectady, New York. His father struggled with schizophrenia and paranoia, and stopped taking his medication. One day, he left baby John in the bath unattended, and wandered off in a fit of hallucination. His mother found him. Fearing that staying with the man she loved would endanger their son, she left and took John to Puerto Rico to raise him among her family.

The boy saved from watery peril would go on to devote his career to warning some of the nation’s most vulnerable populations to the threat of sea level rise and storms intensified by climate change.

You can read my profile, featuring incredible photos from my colleague Chris McGonigal, here.

Quotable menschen

"I don't remember doing it. At all. I believe it was probably on accident. You know, 90 percent of my Facebook is done on my iPhone, just scrolling through it. It was not on purpose. I find it offensive. In fact, when I was shown the picture by my staff, I said, 'What the hell is this,' and they said, 'It's from your Facebook,' and I said, 'No, it's not.'"

--Andrew Wheeler, the acting EPA administrator, on the racist meme I reported he liked on Facebook.

“Dominion is ripping off Virginia families and pushing through unnecessary and dangerous pipelines.”

--Yasmine Taeb, the human rights lawyer challenging a top Virginia Democrat next year, making an almost unheard of challenge to the state’s utility monopoly-cum-political kingmaker.

“Hope and its doleful twin, Hopelessness, might be thought of as the co-muses of the modern eco-narrative. Such is the world we’ve created—a world of wounds—that loss is, almost invariably, the nature writer’s subject. The question is how we relate to that loss. Is the glass ninety-five per cent empty or is it five per cent full?”

--New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert on “how to write about a vanishing world.”

🌀  🌀 🌀

Hurricane Michael rattled Florida amid an environment-centered election. The historic storm struck the Sunshine State’s panhandle just as candidates are making a final push before voting day in November.

This cycle has had an unusual focus on environmental issues. The toxic algae bloom spreading across the state’s waterways put intense scrutiny on Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s record of cutting water management budgets by $700 million since 2011. Now the deep-pocketed governor’s bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson could determine the partisan tilt of the Senate next year.

🛢️  🛢️ 🛢️

The United Kingdom started fracking. Fierce protests and legal challenged failed and this week the fossil fuel firm Cuadrilla drilled two gas wells in Lancashire after the High Court ruled that local officials showed “no evidence” the company failed to properly assess safety risks.

"You can have fracking or you can deal with climate change -- you can't do both," one environmentalist said.

☣️  ☣️ ☣️

The Chemical Safety Board is cutting back under Trump. Insiders at the federal watchdog told The Wall Street Journal they’ve been “encouraged to cut back on regulatory recommendations,” and raising the risk of serious workplace hazards as a result.

"I don’t know if we have the political will to do it, and we definitely don’t have the capacity to do that now."

🇧🇷  🇧🇷 🇧🇷

Brazil’s presidential election could have devastating climate change impacts. The world’s fifth-largest country is on the verge of electing far-right populist Jair Bolsonaro, a military dictatorship enthusiast and the so-called “Trump of the Tropics.”

Yet he could do more to accelerate global warming than the fossil fuel-friendly American president. Bolsonaro has signaled a desire to open indigenous areas to mining, pave a highway through the Amazon and pull out of the Paris Agreement.

🏭  🏭 🏭

Republican climate hawks are facing a big challenge. The small but growing movement of conservatives who want to slash greenhouse gas emissions has long espoused Republicans’ free-market orthodoxy.

But the United Nations report that came out last Sunday showed that so-called “market solutions” -- i.e., a carbon tax -- is never going to be enough to cut emission by an unimaginable 45 percent in 12 years, the deadline set for keeping the planet from warming more than a catastrophic 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Can you put a sigh in your story?” Alex Flint, the executive director of the Alliance for Market Solutions, told me. “I don’t know.”


  • Rebecca Leber wrote the definitive profile of David Bernhardt, the former oil lobbyist pulling the strings at the Interior Department and the likely next Interior Secretary if Ryan Zinke departs.

  • Tess Riley has an excellent piece about the first environmental protesters jailed in Britain in nearly nine decades.

  • Yvette Cabrera’s devastating tale of a 12-year-old boy whose family is desperately trying to keep him out of jail does a magnificent job tracking how environmental pollution ruins the lives of brown and black people before they’re old enough to realize what’s happening.

  • Joseph Majkut wrote a fascinating, worthwhile elegy to conservatives’ missed opportunity for a carbon tax.

  • Ben Walsh and Mary Childs have two separate pieces in Barron’s that illustrate how investors are looking at climate-fueled disasters like Hurricane Michael.

  • Zach Carter’s summary of what the new NAFTA deal means is the essential bigger picture missing from much of the initial news coverage.

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