Feb 19, 2021

Axios AM

💧 Wishing the best to our Texas neighbors.

  • Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 980 words ... 4 minutes.
1 big thing: Limiting climate catastrophe

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon stands on his kitchen counter to warm his feet over his gas stove in Austin. Photo: Ashley Landis/AP

From stronger storms to Arctic warming to California fires, rising carbon levels mean there's no escaping global warming. Now, we're plunged into a new world of managing the fallout, Axios Generate author Ben Geman writes.

  • Why it matters: Texas and some other parts of the U.S. need to update their grids for extreme heat and cold. But the needs go far beyond power to building codes and workplace regulations.

Rutgers climate scientist Robert Kopp tells Axios that the pandemic and the Texas crisis show that the competence of public institutions is a predictor of the "severity" of transcendent disasters.

  • He's among the authors of a 2018 federal report that laid out the climate-related health and economic risks facing different parts of the country. 
  • "[R]ising temperatures, sea level rise, and changes in extreme events are expected to increasingly disrupt and damage critical infrastructure and property," along with labor productivity, the report says.

Scientists are still analyzing the nexus between this week's polar vortex and climate change. But Princeton energy expert Jesse Jenkins writes in a New York Times op-ed: "[W]e do know that climate change increases the frequency of extreme heat waves, droughts, wildfires, rain and coastal flooding."

  • "Those extreme events test our systems to the breaking point, as they have in Texas this week," he writes.

What's next: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced yesterday that he'll ask the legislature to require Texas' power system to be winterized — a basic step that it didn't take before this week's disaster.

The bottom line: As important as adaptation strategies are, climate experts say they're not a replacement for the need to cut emissions.

2. Mars trifecta
In mission control, NASA's Perseverance rover team cheers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Photo: Bill Ingalls/NASA via AP

Three new missions that just arrived at Mars — including the latest U.S. rover that landed yesterday — will help paint a brand new picture of the Red Planet, Axios Space author Miriam Kramer reports.

  • Why it matters: Scientists think that Mars was once a relatively warm and habitable world. The missions from China, UAE and the U.S. will help researchers get a more holistic view of what the planet was like billions of years ago.

NASA's Perseverance rover will hunt for any signs of past life — including microbial life — in what was once a lake billions of years ago.

  • "Percy," as some call it, is the culmination of decades of NASA work, including an instrument that can convert atmospheric carbon dioxide to oxygen — something we might want to do if humans land there someday.
Photo: NASA via Reuters

Above: In the first image back from Mars, the rover sees its shadow.

3. CEO confidence spikes
Data: The Conference Board; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

In contrast to dwindling confidence of U.S. consumers, CEOs haven't felt as good about the economic outlook in 17 years, Axios Markets editor Dion Rabouin writes.

The Conference Board's quarterly reading of CEO confidence rose to its highest since the first quarter of 2004:

  • 82% of CEOs expect economic conditions to improve over the next six months, up from 63% last quarter.

Between the lines: Execs tells us vaccine optimism is a huge part of this.

4. Quote du jour: "I'm not a cat"

Screenshot: CNBC

Keith Gill — the investor known on YouTube as "Roaring Kitty," who helped fuel the GameStop rebellion — at a House Financial Services hearing that was carried live on CNBC for four hours yesterday:

  • "A few things I am not: I'm not a cat. I am not an institutional investor. Nor am I a hedge fund. ... I'm just an individual whose investment in GameStop, and posts on social media, were based on my own research and analysis."

Go deeper.

5. Vaccine supply to surge soon

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The U.S. supply of coronavirus vaccines is expected to significantly expand over the next few months, with more than enough doses available to vaccinate all U.S. adults before the end of July, Axios' Caitlin Owens writes from a Bloomberg analysis.

  • Why it matters: If manufacturing goes according to plan, the intense competition for shots will end relatively soon, and attention will turn instead to increasing vaccine uptake.
  • The U.S. is currently administering 1.6 million doses a day. Enough vaccine should eventually become available to boost that figure to 4.5 million.

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6. "Vaccine hunters" turn to social media

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

People who haven't been able to secure appointments for a coronavirus vaccine are turning to Facebook groups and other online forums to find cancelled slots and figure out where to go, Axios' Ashley Gold writes.

  • Why it matters: These ad-hoc online communities have helped people get vaccinated and kept some doses from going to waste. But they also underscore the confusion and frustration of the U.S. vaccine rollout.

Facebook pages and Reddit threads are emerging all over the country, filled with posts from people seeking vaccines or providing info about appointments.

  • The potential for scams and misinformation is high, despite people's best intentions to help one another.

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7. Flyin' Ted

Ted Cruz at the Cancún airport. Photo: MEGA/GC Images via Getty Images

Sen. Ted Cruz outside his Houston home, after rushing back from Cancún when social media exploded with derision over his decision to take a pre-spring break while his state froze (via MSNBC):

The plan had been to stay through the weekend with the family. ... [T]he last week's been tough on a lot of folks. Our girls, when they got the news that school was cancelled this week, they said: 'Look, why don't we take a trip? Let's go somewhere where it's not so cold.' ...
[T]his had been a tough week, and it's been a tough year for kids — kids all across the state of Texas. And so, we were trying to be good parents and said, 'OK we'll do it.' And so we booked the flight. You know, I have to admit, I started having second thoughts almost the moment I sat down on the plane.

How Cruz's trip imploded.

8. Lines of '22

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The next round of congressional redistricting is shaping up to be a mess, beset by even more complications and lawsuits than usual, Axios' Stef Kight reports.

  • Why it matters: This process will likely help Republicans pick up seats in the House in 2022. Beyond that, though, the pandemic and the Trump administration's handling of the Census have made this round of redistricting especially fraught — and states will be locked into the results for a decade.
  • Huge states with diversifying and expanding populations — including Texas, Florida and North Carolina — will likely feel some of the most significant impacts.

Keep reading.

9. Prius of planes

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Hybrid-electric aircraft will soon kick off a new era of cleaner air travel, just as the pioneering Toyota Prius heralded the start of the electric car movement 20 years ago, Axios Navigate author Joann Muller writes.

  • Why it matters: Replacing small regional planes that run on fossil fuels would help reduce CO2 emissions and make air travel easier and cheaper for residents of smaller cities not served by major airlines.

Keep reading.

10. Parting shot
Photo: Francis Gardler/Lincoln Journal Star via AP

A blue jay eyes a food competitor coming in for a landing on a hanging peanut-wreath bird feeder in freezing Lincoln, Neb. — where correspondent Justin Green says the balmy mid-20s mean patio beers.

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