Urban Tensions Hackathon at Northeastern

This past weekend I attended the Urban Tensions Hackathon at Northeastern University the goal of which was to use urban data to tell the story of conflict in Boston. The event started with a round of lighting talks. Christine Dixon of Project Hope discussed getting Boston public housing data from the courts and Ben Green who works for the City of Boston discussed the Analyze Boston data portal that launched last week.

With that inspiration, we were let lose to form groups and do our own data analysis. My group members Elle Williams, Rowan Walrath and Paxtyn Merten, worked with Twine  – an interactive, non-linear storytelling tool – to create an interactive game called Broken Bootstraps designed to build empathy for people being evicted from their homes. Elle got the idea from Depression Quest, a similar empathy building game, also built with Twine, in which user played a character with depression and had to make a series of life choices, which were affected by their depression.

What we made in four hours is very much a draft. There were a lot of things we wanted to include but did not have time to fully research, including public v. subsidized housing and the affect on race on the eviction process. That being said I was very impressed with what we were able to accomplish from idea conception to completion in such a short time. (And other’s seemed to agree since we won 4th place at the hackathon!)

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Frances Stark at the MFA

This past weekend the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Mass. said goodbye to “UH-OH” an exhibit of simultaneously minimalist and in-your-face art by Los Angeles-based artist and writer Frances Stark. Stark’s exhibit serves as a manifesto of sorts, influenced heavily by the artist’s reflections on literature, music, sex, domesticity, pleasure, and pedagogy. The gallery showcases 25 years of work in which one sees the artist transition from carbon copy drawings to digital video installation.

The art all about the artist – revealing a deeply narcissistic tendency – but it is also intensely relatable and invites the viewer the see themselves in the art. What brought me back to the exhibit multiple times throughout the five months it was housed at the MFA was how Stark uses text in her artwork – as a writer it is the medium I am most comfortable in. But while the medium made me feel at home, the message was always thought provoking and often unsettling.

What writer doesn’t see themselves in the words “why can’t you assemble yourself and write?” What artist hasn’t bee here: “for one second I though I could approach this sketchbook as though it were a gated playground in which I could freely indulge my imagination. Do you know how short a second is?”

While these kind of messages remind those of us who are always questioning and doubting ourselves that others feel the same, but Stark does not go as far as to comfort the viewer. Instead she prompts the viewer to silently dwell on her rhetorical questions and critiques about the self and society, leaving the exhibit utterly unsettled and satisfied.

You can follow my live tweeting of my visit at @Rowena__Lindsay

Twitter resources for a post-@EPA world

In addition to following a variety of climate and environment related news sources to fuel this blog, I’ll also be keeping an eye on Twitter. Before yesterday, when President Donald Trump called for a media blackout at the Environmental Protection Agency, the @EPA Twitter feed would have been at the top of the list. Now perhaps that spot is better filled by @AltNatParkSer, a newly created account run by a rogue tea of National Park Service employees brazenly tweeting about climate change as part of the“unofficialy resistance.”

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In all seriousness however, there are an endless number of scientists, science journalists, professors, research centers, and planet Earth enthusiasts speaking the truth about climate change on Twitter, and there is nothing like attempted censorship to bring them out of the woodwork.

My Twitter reading list will include accounts that I have come to trust in, that update regularly about a variety of climate and environment related issues and have an appropriate balance of opinion and reporting facts in what they choose to tweet and retweet

I start with several fellow journalists, including ProPublica reporter and environmental author Andy Rekvin @Revkin, Vox Senior editor Brad Plumer @bradplumer on the self-described apocalypse beat, Kate Sheppard @kate_sheppard from the Huffington Post, and Climate Central writer John Upton @johnupton.

I will also be following prominent climate activits such as Al Gore @algore and Bill McKibben @billmckibben, founder of 350.org’s divestment from fossil fuels campaign. Eric Pooley @EricPooley, is the author of the The Climate War and expert on the politics of climate change.

I’ll also be following Open Climate Data @openclimatedata. I am currently taking a data journalism class and would love to dive into some data for a post or two on this blog throughout the semester.

Lastly, I’ll be tracking the Union of Concerned Scientists @UCSUSA

, which I have turned to for sources multiple times in the past, and the Pew Research Center’s environmental twitter feed @PewEnvironment.

WhiteHouse.gov deletes climate change

Since Donald Trump was elected president, climate scientists afraid of government-sponsored censorship have been scrambling to back up their data. On Friday these fears were realized when the URL www.whitehouse.gov/energy/climate-change disappeared – it now redirects to the website of the newly inaugurated president’s transition team.

The page that once outlined Barack Obama’s plans to combat climate change and protect the environment now details the America First Energy Plan, which accuses environmental regulations with harming workers and promises to revive the coal industry.

“For too long, we’ve been held back by burdensome regulations on our energy industry,” the newly updated page reads. “President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule. Lifting these restrictions will greatly help American workers, increasing wages by more than $30 billion over the next 7 years.”

The Climate Action Plan, which was proposed by  Mr. Obama in 2013, called for reduced carbon emissions through use of renewable energy, and increased study of climate change. The Waters of the U.S. Rule is an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation that protects waterways within the U.S., including many critics believe should fall under state jurisdiction.

Not only does the new website not mention climate change, it no longer allows the public to read about existing laws regarding climate change. The Washington Post reports that the White House pages about the National Environmental Policy Act and the Council on Environmental Quality can no longer be found.

By nature, laws can only be fairly upheld if they are understood by the people who must abide by them – a difficult task when the government responsible for upholding the law purposely hides that information, unless of course the government does not really want them upheld.

With any luck, the watchful eye of the climate conscious public will not let these changes go unnoticed and thereby Mr. Trump and his administration accountable.

Here to help in that goal is Columbia Law School’s newly designed Climate Deregulation Tracker – a system designed to keep track of regulatory changes made by Trump’s administration on climate change, renewable energy and the fossil fuel industry. The tool was made in anticipation of the changed President Trump’s team would enact and aims to provide context for these changes.

“We think it’s really important the Trump administration’s climate policies aren’t being viewed in a vacuum,” Michael Burger, executive director of Colombia’s Sabin Center for Climate Law,  which created the tool, told InsideClimate News.


Smarter than you’d think

People seem to enjoy laughing at legacy news media’s attempts to keep up with the changing news landscape, but in reality news organizations were not as blindsided by the digital age as it may appear.

In 1981 a KRON news report detailed how eight newspapers across the country were offering nearly all of their content to customers via home computer.

The model was too slow and expensive to make it remotely practical at the time, but the editors interviewed for the news segment were already thinking about how this experiment might lead to a day when people got all their news by home computer and how this seismic shift to the news landscape might change what it means to be a journalist.

Later in 1994, Roger Fiddler of the Knight-Ridder foundation predicted the evolution of news on the go through a portable tablet computer that would house the newspaper. He also predicted the rise of the multimedia news story that allows readers to interact with stories, through graphics, photo and video.

“We may still use computers to create information, but we will use the tablet to interact with information,” the 1994 report accurately predicted.

In 2007, Robin Sloan release an updated prediction for the future of media through the fictional Museum of Media History. Sloan’s video portrays a bleak future in which non-news organizations would come to dominate the news industry by algorithmically scrubbing the internet for information and assembling it into news articles. He also predicted that personalized news recommendations wouldcreate news bubbles – a buzz word we have all heard an awful lot lately.

Not that the news media predicted everything.

The Knight-Ridder Foundation thought that people would enjoy and interact with digital advertising – that it would be valuable, even.  In 2007, Sloan predicted that Google and Amazon would form one company and he completely underestimated the powerful role social media would play in what he dubbed the “news wars.”

But the point I am trying to make is that journalists are an innovative and forward thinking bunch. No one goes into journalism because they want a predictable job. Reporters and editors have been fantasizing about the digital future for decades and while nothing could have adequately prepared them for the blunt force of the internet’s punch, they were in the ring and ready to fight.

What this blog is all about

In my previous job at The Christian Science Monitor I spent months covering what might happen to the Environmental Protection Agency, to the Department of Energy’s renewable energy projects, and to the landmark Paris Climate Accord under the supervision of climate change skeptic Donald Trump as president of the United States. While such speculation sometimes felt futile and fear-mongering, I ultimately felt that such reporting was necessary for the public to be informed about what exactly a president can and cannot do to reverse environmental protections and deregulate the energy sector.

This country is one of world’s largest contributors to climate change, but we are also in a position to influence real change around the world by setting a precedent of taking responsibility and working to mitigate climate change.

Through this blog I will be following a specific beat: how climate and environmental policy change under Mr. Trump’s presidency at both the federal and state levels. Drawing information from a variety of publications – including Science Daily, Inside Climate News, Grist, Yale Climate Connections, and The Washington Post and The Guardian’s energy and environment sections – and occasionally my own original reporting, I aim to create a comprehensive look at what changes are being made at the federal level, how state and local government attempt to counter those changes, and what it all means for the planet and the people inhabiting it.