Neel is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Prior to Heatmap, he was a science and climate reporter at Vox, an editorial fellow at Audubon magazine, and an assistant producer at Radiolab, where he helped produce The Other Latif, a series about one detainee's journey to Guantanamo Bay. He is a graduate of the Literary Reportage program at NYU, which helped him turn incoherent scribbles into readable stories, and he grew up (mostly) in Bangalore. He tweets sporadically at @neel_dhan. Read MoreRead More
Volvo and Polestar Break Up
On Tesla and antifreeze, otters and crabs, and more.
Current conditions:“The largest storm of the season” is scheduled to make landfall tomorrow in California, which is fresh off one storm that dumped water across the state.The Spanish region of Catalonia has declared a state of emergency over its worst drought on record. Residents are protesting unprecedented water shortages in Mexico City, which is struggling after years of little rain.
THE TOP FIVE
1. Volvo splits with Polestar
Yesterday, Swedish automaker Volvo announced it is pulling funding from Polestar, its EV arm, which has struggled to gain a foothold in the market. As Jennifer Mossalgue reports in Electrek, Polestar is bleeding cash — it announced plans to cut 15% of its workforce last week, and needs a billion-dollar cash infusion over the next year to stay in business. Polestar will instead become the purview of Volvo parent company Geely, owned by Chinese billionaire Li Shufu.
2. Tesla settles lawsuit over water pollution
Yesterday, a judge in California's San Joaquin County ordered Tesla to pay $1.5 million to settle a lawsuit brought by more than two dozen counties, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, for mislabeling hazardous waste and sending it to landfills that could not accept the particular substances, including “paint materials, brake fluids, used batteries, antifreeze and diesel fuel.” The lawsuit alleged that at least 101 facilities violated California’s waste management laws, including the factory in Fremont. The electric vehicle-maker has had multiple previous tangles with the Environmental Protection Agency over pollution from its factories.
“While electric vehicles may benefit the environment, the manufacturing and servicing of these vehicles still generates many harmful waste streams,” said San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins in a press release. “Today’s settlement against Tesla, Inc. serves to provide a cleaner environment for citizens throughout the state by preventing the contamination of our precious natural resources when hazardous waste is mismanaged and unlawfully disposed.”
3. Democrats take on AI’s environmental impact
Sen. Markey at a Capitol Hill rally in 2021.Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
A group of Democratic lawmakers, led by Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, introduced a bill that would direct the EPA to study the environmental impacts of artificial intelligence. It also asks the National Institute of Standards and Technology to set up a system to both measure and voluntarily report those impacts. AI, like crypto mining, is energy-intensive, but it’s difficult to tell just how that energy use impacts the environment without any measurement or reporting mechanism in place.
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4. Rooftop solar’s woes continue
Earlier this week the software company Aurora Solar laid off 20% of its 500-person staff, about a year after it raised $200 million in a Series D round.
“Like many other companies in the solar industry, we’ve felt the effects of larger macroeconomic challenges, including higher interest rates and the impact of NEM 3.0 in California,” Aurora Solar told Tim De Chant at TechCrunch.
NEM 3.0 is California’s latest iteration of a net metering regulation. Under the new structure, which came into effect in April of last year, compensation rates for solar customers in the state dropped by about 75%, which means rooftop solar is no longer the steal deal it once was.
The news is the latest in a series of signs that the rooftop solar industry is in a tough spot at the moment — as Alana Semuels wrote in Time last week, more than 100 residential solar-related companies declared bankruptcy in 2023 alone.
5. Otters are inadvertent erosion fighters
Sea otters are playing a crucial role in stopping estuaries in California from eroding away, according to a delightfully-titled article in Nature. After conservation efforts succeeded in helping sea otter populations in the state rebound from the brink of extinction, researchers found that the animals were inadvertently stopping salt marshes like Monterey Bay’s Elkhorn Slough from washing away by eating the crabs that were picking at vegetation that keeps the sandy banks of the marsh together. Erosion in the areas where otters returned slowed from 30 centimeters a year to 10 centimeters a year.
“It’s remarkable when you think about it,” Jane Watson, a community ecologist at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, Canada, told Nature’s Jude Coleman. “You can have a single animal, the sea otter, come in and through predation actually mitigate the effects of erosion.”
It’s cloudy with a chance of flurries in Punxsutawney, PA, where the eponymous rodent is scheduled to make his prediction for Groundhog Day, and TheWashington Post’s Kasha Patel has a story about it told entirely in verse. Punxsutawney Phil, Patel notes, has a bit of competition these days:
“The National Weather Service issues seasonal outlooks based on computer models and science. They do not have a groundhog for reliance.”