Generate - Axios
Top Stories
Featured

Generate

Good morning and welcome to week three of Generate! That's about how long we've been waiting for Donald Trump's planned executive order against Obama-era climate policies to materialize. Is this the day (or the week)? We'll see. Here's what else is going on . . .

Bill Gates meets Donald Trump today

The billionaire tech pioneer and philanthropist will be at the White House this morning. The agenda is kind of vague but we'll be watching for signs that it touches on a longtime Gates obsession: robust R&D into breakthrough clean energy tech.

Why it matters: The meeting arrives just days after Trump proposed a budget that would deeply slash Energy Department spending and end support outright for DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. Gates, via his foundation, has bashed the budget plan for several reasons.

  • Flashback: Gates told Axios's Ina Fried very recently that he's going to push the Trump administration and Congress to maintain U.S. leadership in clean energy.

Capitol Hill lightning round

Giphy

Here's a few things I've got my eyes peeled for this week in Congress …

  • Oil-and-gas climate rules: The Senate might take up a House-passed plan to kill Obama-era Interior Dept. regs to cut methane emissions from oil-and-gas operations on federal lands. GOP Sen. Rob Portman is a swing vote that people are watching.
  • Neil Gorsuch: Trump's SCOTUS pick faces the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday. Will he get a climate question? The high court has already given EPA power to regulate carbon emissions, but new EPA chief Scott Pruitt has been questioning how much Clean Air Act leeway EPA has over power plants.
  • Offshore drilling: Hard to believe that BP's Deepwater Horizon catastrophe is almost seven years old. A House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee gathers Tuesday to explore "deficiencies" at the Interior Department's offshore drilling safety branch that was totally overhauled after the spill.

What the executive order (probably) won’t say

Let's get the standing reminder done: Very soon, the White House is slated to issue an executive order or memo that will seek to scuttle big pieces of Obama's climate policy. Some of this can happen fast, like lifting the public lands coal leasing freeze, but unwinding EPA power plant rules will take a long time.

Ok! My sources suggest the executive order will not wage a frontal assault on climate change science. Despite Trump's well-known skepticism and EPA chief Scott Pruitt's break with the scientific consensus on carbon, they don't expect the order to wade into the topic.

  • Instead, look for any throat-clearing policy rationale (many executive orders have that kind of chatter upfront) to focus on economics and regulatory burdens, and maybe make the case that Obama's EPA took liberties with the Clean Air Act.
Why it matters: If there's indeed nothing questioning mainstream climate science, it suggests the administration doesn't want that topic front and center in its battles over climate and enegy policy.

Coal’s comeback is a longshot

Two stories caught my eye that help explain why Trump's pledge to revive the U.S. coal industry is such a heavy lift. A lengthy piece that fronts Sunday's Washington Post biz section says some good signs—higher prices, a boost in deliveries—probably won't change underlying trends. Why?

  • The big open-pit mines where the industry is focused in Wyoming and elsewhere need fewer workers than Appalachian mines.
  • Cheap gas, cheap gas, cheap gas from the fracking bom.
  • Softer than expected Asian demand.
  • Trump has shown "no signs" of backing big federal cash for climate-friendly coal tech.
The Financial Times, meanwhile, quotes the International Energy Agency chief predicting that Trump's plans to ease infrastructure permitting could boost U.S. gas exports further, creating a drag on Chinese and Indian coal needs.

Trump’s multi-dimensional auto gambit

An interesting scoop from our own Jonathan Swan signals that Trump's interest in auto markets and policy goes beyond his high-profile announcement that he's probably rolling back tough Obama-era efficiency rules.

  • He reports: "Senior White House officials are quietly preparing to confront China over what they consider unfair practices in the auto industry. It's a move that could profoundly disrupt relations between the superpowers."
Check out the whole story here.

Palace intrigue at EPA

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is "bristling" at the presence of one of Donald Trump's political appointees at the agency, the Washington Post reports. Trump's man at EPA is Trump campaign official and former Washington State senator Don Benton.

Scene and heard: the Post says Benton chatters so much during policy meetings that he's no longer invited to many of them. "One of the officials described the situation as akin to an episode of the HBO comedy series 'Veep.'"

One cool thing

National Geographic's photo of the day this morning is cool but kind of vertigo-inducing.

Thanks for reading! Getting all our newsletters in your inbox each day is easy and free. You can sign up here. And needless to say your tips and feedback are always welcome at ben@axios.com. Look for more energy and climate change coverage each day in the Axios stream, and we'll you see again early tomorrow morning.

Featured

Trump claims he told Time "no thanks" for Man of the Year

Photo: Jae C. Hong / AP

Friday evening, President Trump tweeted, "Time Magazine called to say that I was PROBABLY going to be named "Man (Person) of the Year," like last year, but I would have to agree to an interview and a major photo shoot. I said probably is no good and took a pass. Thanks anyway!"

Why it matters: Trump has been tweeting about Time Magazine since 2012, when he said, "I knew last year that @TIME Magazine lost all credibility when they didn't include me in their Top 100." He complained in 2015 that they didn't choose him as person of the year, and earlier this year the Washington Post discovered that there were fake Time Magazine covers featuring Trump in several of his golf clubs.

Featured

Mobile purchases surging this Black Friday

Josh Reynolds / AP Images for BJ's Wholesale Club

Almost half of the almost $3 billion spent online this Thanksgiving came from mobile devices, according to Adobe Analytics, with mobile making up 61% of site visits.

Why it matters: Brick-and-mortar stores have taken a hit this year, but the growing popularity and user-friendliness of mobile shopping could maintain the retail success of Black Friday deals. Adobe found a 51% increase in mobile sales on Thanksgiving from last year, and overall retail sales are projected to rack up to $20 billion by the end of the weekend.

Experts say: "On both Thanksgiving and Black Friday, the gap between mobile traffic and revenue is closing. Shoppers looking for discounts are getting better at using smartphones to quickly close the deal, and we are seeing better mobile conversion this season at over 10% growth," Adobe vice president Mickey Mericle told Retail Dive.


Featured

Arpaio sued for allegedly pursuing charges to hurt Jeff Flake

Photo: Mary Altaffer / AP

One of Sen. Jeff Flake's sons has filed a malicious prosecution lawsuit against Sherriff Joe Arpaio, claiming the sheriff pursued charges of animal cruelty against him and his wife for publicity's sake and to hurt his father's political reputation, AP reports. The case will go to trial on December 5.

Why it matters: This is just the latest in a list of serious accusations of misconduct against Arpaio. President Trump pardoned Arpaio over criminal contempt charges earlier this year.

The backstory: In 2014, Austin Flake and his wife were watching the dogs at an animal shelter owned by Flake's in-laws when an air conditioning unit broke and 21 dogs died from heat exhaustion. The owners, who had been out of town, eventually pleaded guilty to animal cruelty charges for not properly maintaining the AC unit.

The claim: Austin claims that Arpaio was intent on linking the Flake family to the felony charge of animal cruelty and even conducted surveillance at the senator's house.

Featured

Trump says Egypt attack shows need for wall, travel ban

President Trump has issued another tweet about the mosque attack in North Sinai, Egypt that killed about 235 people, tying the attack to his immigration policies:

That followed a far more restrained message from his account, which seemed to come during his golf round:

Be smart: The challenges Egypt faces from groups like ISIS, which is active in the Sinai peninsula, are far different from the threat the U.S. faces — largely from individual, ISIS-inspired attackers.

Featured

Turkey claims Trump promised to stop arming Syrian Kurds

Photo; Pool Photo / AP

The Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu claims President Trump promised to stop arming the Syrian Kurds during a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, AP reports.

Why it matters: The White House has yet to comment on the claim, but some U.S. officials told the AP they were caught off guard by the announcement. Turkey views Kurdish fighters in Syria as terrorists because of the affiliation with the Kurdish fighters in their own country, but the Kurds have been effective in the anti-ISIS fight.

Update from the White House, seeming to confirm the Turkish claim: "Consistent with our previous policy, President Trump also informed President Erdogan of pending adjustments to the military support provided to our partners on the ground in Syria, now that the battle of Raqqa is complete and we are progressing into a stabilization phase to ensure that ISIS cannot return. The leaders also discussed the purchase of military equipment from the United States."

Featured

Barbie through the years

An arrangement of Fashionista Barbies, by Mattel, is shown at Toy Fair in New York. Photo: Photo: Mark Lennihan / AP

In the nearly six decades of Barbie's reign as a cultural icon (she turns 59 in March), little girls' perception of beauty and success have evolved dramatically. As a result, Barbie's creator, Mattel, has repeatedly revamped the doll to keep her relevant.

Why it matters: In the past few years alone, the iconic blonde doll with its unrealistic body proportions has undergone massive changes. One of Barbie's biggest breakthroughs was as recent as 2016, when Mattel unveiled curvy, petite and tall dolls in an assortment of different skin tones and hairstyles. And the latest Barbie, set to hit stores in 2018, will don a hijab, in honor of Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad.

Business impact: Mattel credited their 2016 collection with boosting worldwide sales by 7%, revealing that the continued diversity push is largely a business decision for the company, which has been trying to turn its core business around for years.

Yes, but: Despite the spike in sales earlier this year, Mattel has been hard-pressed to maintain the momentum. In its most recent quarter, Mattel said Barbie sales were down 13% worldwide, and 22% in North America in large part due to the bankruptcy of one of its biggest customers, Toys R Us.

What's next: With sales lagging again, Mattel will likely continue its evolution of debuting new dolls with distinctive characteristics that attempt to break its previous cultural boundaries.

Barbie through the years

1965

Barbie encourages fad dieting. The Slumber Party-themed doll came equipped with a small plastic scale set to 110 lbs. and a diet book titled "How to Lose Weight" with the advice, "DON'T EAT!"

1992

Barbie speaks. Her first words included phrases like "I love shopping" and "Math class is tough." The latter phrase received backlash from several female advocates accusing Mattel of perpetuating gender stereotypes.

Barbie gets presidential. Mattel introduced the first president Barbie in 1992, donning a patriotic inauguration gown. In the following years she was upgraded to a dress suit.

The new "President 2000 Barbie" doll is shown Tuesday, April 25, 2000, in Los Angeles. Photo: Reed Saxon / AP

1994

Oreo Barbie. Mattel unveiled an Oreo Fun Barbie edition in partnership with Oreo-producer Nabisco. However, the African American version was quickly recalled after criticism that the word "Oreo" can refer to someone as being "black on the outside, and white on the inside."

1997

Barbie in a wheelchair. Mattel's "Share a Smile" Becky was its first handicapped doll. However, the company discontinued the doll after receiving criticism for not making Barbie's other accessories wheelchair accessible. Customers complained that the doll's wheelchair didn't fit in Barbie's Dream house elevator or her cars. The doll's long hair also got stuck in the wheels.

Mattel's Share a Smile Becky doll is shown during a news conference in Washington Wednesday, May 21, 1997. Photo: Susan Walsh / AP

1998

"Really Rad Barbie" gets a new, idolized body shape. The new body type was based on the fashion of the time. Barbie got a tighter smile, straighter hair, smaller hips, a smaller chest, a slightly wider waist and flatter feet. "They wanted Barbie to be cooler," Sean Fitzgerald, then-vice president of corporate communications for Mattel told SF Gate.

2015

Barbie gets inspired. In 2015, Mattel launched its Shero collection, based on women who have broken boundaries. Some of the Shero dolls include plus-size model Ashley Graham; groundbreaking African American ballerina Misty Copeland; Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas and Asian-American fashion editor Eva Chen.

Artificial Intelligence Barbie. This Barbie was the world's first AI-enabled doll, and designed to have conversations with children, much like one Siri would have with its iPhone users. And although many kids were excited to have a techy Barbie, several parents were concerned about the doll's ability to store data from recordings.

Hello Barbie is displayed at the Mattel showroom during the North American International Toy Fair in New York. Photo: Mark Lennihan / AP

2016

Barbie gets more realistic body shapes. Mattel debuted their new line of Barbies with three different body shapes — petite, tall, and curvy — in March 2016, alongside the hashtag #TheDollEvolves. The doll also comes in seven different skin tones, 22 eye colors, 33 hairstyles, and new clothing options.

A "curvy" Barbie, left, by Mattel, is shown at Toy Fair in New York in 2016. Photo: Mark Lennihan / AP

2017

Barbie's boyfriend, Ken, becomes more diverse: In June 2017, Mattel unveiled a collection of 15 racially and stylistically diverse Ken dolls with different body types and skin tones. They also have different hair colors and styles, including a man bun.

2018

Barbie will get a hijab. Influenced by Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, who became the first American to compete in the games while wearing a hijab. The doll will go on sale in 2018.

Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad holds a hijab-wearing "Barbie Shero" in her likeness at the 2017 Glamour Women of the Year Awards. Photo: Evan Agostini / Invision via AP

Featured

Bharara: Cooperation with Mueller is "only sane move" for Flynn

Photo: Evan Vucci / AP

Former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara tweeted on Friday that the only "rational move" for former national security adviser Mike Flynn is to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller. The tweet follows a NY Times report that Flynn's lawyers have cut ties with Trump's, possibly in order to cut a deal with Mueller.

"If you're dead to rights, flipping on others and cooperating with the prosecution is the only sane and rational move. Also, prosecutors accept cooperation only if you can provide 'substantial assistance.' Higher up in the food chain."

Featured

Trump administration backs Obama-led climate effort

Obama and Trump meet at the White House after Trump's election. Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

A career State Department official speaking at a conference Thursday on behalf of the Trump administration backed a climate policy then-President Obama pursued shortly before he left office.

The policy phases down powerful greenhouse gases found in a range of everyday appliances. This is the most explicit and public the Trump administration has been about supporting it.

The big picture: The conference, held this week in Montreal, is about a recent amendment to the Montreal Protocol, a global treaty created 30 years ago to fix the hole in the Earth's ozone layer, which is now it's achieving its goal. World leaders, led by the Obama administration, agreed in October 2016 to the Kigali amendment, which would phase down emissions of powerful greenhouse gases in refrigerants called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). HFCs are used in many appliances from air conditioners to refrigerators.

Quoted: "The United States believes the Kigali Amendment represents a pragmatic and balanced approach to phasing down the production and consumption of HFCs, and therefore we support the goals and approach of the Amendment," said Judith Garber, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the State Department's Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

What's next: Rhetorical backing for the amendment is one thing, but to have it actually take effect, the administration needs to send it over to the Senate so it can vote on its official ratification, as the Senate has done on other amendments and the original treaty 30 years ago. "There is no timeline currently determined for these steps, but we have initiated the process to consider U.S. ratification of the Amendment," Garber said.

Fast facts: The Montreal Protocol is a treaty about the ozone layer, but this latest amendment from Kigali represents an evolution to concerns about climate change. The 2015 Paris climate deal, which is a non-binding treaty that didn't require congressional input, is mostly about cutting other greenhouse gases from energy and land use. It's wholly separate from the Montreal Protocol.

Bottom line: Process matters a lot here. One of the biggest complaints of Trump administration officials about the Paris deal is that Obama circumvented Congress (because he knew he wouldn't get support from the GOP-controlled Senate). The Kigali amendment backers, which include chemical makers like Honeywell and Chemours, are emphasizing how this is a collaborative process with Congress and is about the Montreal Protocol, not climate change per se.

What we're hearing: "These remarks in support of the Kigali Amendment are very significant. Obviously, they were cleared by the White House," said David Doniger, who directs the climate change program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, by email. "The contrast with Trump's rejection of Paris is striking. But the Montreal Protocol and all of its amendments have enjoyed support from presidents and members of Congress from both parties."

My thought bubble: If/when you see this process unfold further, don't expect congressional Republicans and administration officials, most of whom don't acknowledge climate change is a problem, to focus on the climate angle. It'll be all about collaboration and protecting the environment and creating business opportunities for industry.


Go deeper:

  • Read my two Harder Line columns on this topic: Why industry is backing the policy, and how your air conditioner is caught up in all this.
  • The amendment is set to go into force (for those that have officially signed onto it) in January 2019, thanks to Sweden just recently signing on and meeting the ratification threshold, per the NYT.
Featured

A new bird species is seen emerging in real-time

A medium ground finch, one of the two Galapagos finches that led to the new lineage.

Photo: Uwe-Bergwitz / iStock

Scientists have directly documented a new species evolving in the wild for the first time, according to the BBC. Fittingly, the event was seen in Galapagos Island finches, the same group of birds that helped Darwin solidify his theory of evolution. The research, published Thursday in the journal Science, started in 1981, when a single male from a different finch species came to the tiny island of Daphne Major.

Why it matters: This is the first time the formation of a new species has been observed in real-time in the wild. More than that, it shows how just a single individual can breed with one from another species, leading to the creation of a new species.

For several decades, scientists have been meticulously documenting minute changes in different finch species on the Galapagos Islands, an archipelago that's been referred to as a "natural laboratory for evolution."

How it started: The initial hybridization event happened in 1981 on the Galapagos island of Daphne Major, where evolutionary biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant conducted most of their research. They studied the group so closely that they noticed when a male large cactus finch, native to a different island 65 miles away, arrived on the island and began breeding with a local population.

What happened: Native females didn't recognize the songs of the new hybrid males, so instead of breeding with the local population as expected, the hybrids bred within their population. This paper shows that after just two generations, they stopped breeding with other populations and have remained reproductively isolated ever since.

Taking off: "In most cases, the offspring of cross-species matings are poorly adapted to their environment," writes Rory Galloway for the BBC. But the large size of these hybrids has allowed them to exploit resources the native birds weren't using, so the birds have flourished.

Go deeper: It just so happens that Darwin's personally annotated copy of The Origin of Species is up for auction. The Guardian has the story.

Featured

235 killed in Egypt mosque attack

About 235 people were killed and 109 more wounded in a bomb and gun attack on a mosque in North Sinai, Egypt's general prosecutor has said. Police say men in off-road vehicles fired upon worshippers during Friday prayers at the mosque, in the town of Bir al-Abed. It appears that the explosion happened first, and the attackers fired on the worshippers as they fled.

NY Times' Rukmini Callimachi: "No group has claimed responsibility, but we know ISIS has a powerful affiliate there and the group has long targeted Sufis around the world."

Trump's tweets: