This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

    Source Aniket Deole (Yosemite National Park)

    This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

    What's Going On?

    Everyone cares about our national parks, right? Apparently not when they're left unsupervised. It's been over two weeks since the government shutdown began and national parks have been suffering the consequences, with reports of litter, illegal camping, off-roading in sensitive habitat areas, vandalism, and human feces and urine piling up. Some states (i.e. Utah and New York) are spending their own money to keep their parks open and running smoothly, but most (i.e. California) are not. Local volunteers have been helping as much as they can — cleaning bathrooms, hauling away trash, and donating port-a-potties. But this is a small band-aid on the problem.

    Could This Have Lasting Consequences?

    During government shutdowns in 1995 and 2013, the national park system closed to the public. Many think Trump's move to keep the parks open was motivated by the negative PR Obama received by closing the parks in 2013. Former National Park Service director Jon Jarvis believes that damage caused during this shutdown could last for many years to come — the national park system has an $11.6 billion backlog of deferred maintenance and has dealt with a 19% increase in visitors over the past five years with an 11% smaller staff.

    What Happens Now?

    Yesterday the National Park Service decided to do something it has never done before — use money from entrance fees to provide limited basic services during the shutdown.

    “...it has become clear that highly visited parks with limited staff have urgent needs that cannot be addressed solely through the generosity of our partners,” NPS director P. Daniel Smith said. “We are taking this extraordinary step to ensure that parks are protected.” Some park advocates believe this decision will have negative long-term financial consequences, and members of Congress are questioning if it's even legal.

    What You Can Do

    Don't go to a national park while the shutdown continues. And if you live near one, why not volunteer?

    It's Always Sunny in Texas

    What's Going On?

    Deep in the heart of oil country, Texas sits as "one of the only places where the natural patterns of wind and sun could produce power around the clock." Researchers from Rice University have found that Texas has the potential to run completely off renewable power by using wind energy from West Texas and the Gulf Coast, and solar from the rest of the state. Since the two sources produce power at different times of the day, coordinating them could render coal powered plants obsolete. Currently, the lone star state is the biggest producer of wind power in the US (18% of its electricity comes from wind energy), and it is the 6th largest solar producer. The state's solar capacity is expected to triple in the next few years and the price of solar keeps falling (43% over the last 5 years).

    Why You Should Care

    Don't get too excited — Texas isn't going to be fully powered by renewable energy just yet. They still need to figure out how to store excess wind and solar power, ramp up solar production, and use natural gas to fill in the gaps when weather is unpredictable. However, wind and solar are becoming the cheapest option "whether or not you care about the environment" says Dan Cohan, co-author of the report. States like Texas may soon have to pivot to renewable energy purely for economic reasons. It's growing nationwide too. 11% of US electricity is expected to come from wind and solar in 2019 and coal generated electricity has dropped significantly since 2007.

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