Aug 2, 2021

Axios AM

Happy Monday! Smart Brevity™ count: 1,494 words ... 5½ minutes. Edited by Zachary Basu.

🚨 Bulletin: Simone Biles will compete on the balance beam at the Tokyo Olympics after pulling out of five event finals. Get the latest.

1 big thing: Harsh climate reality

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Climate change isn't an existential cliff that we'll suddenly fall off of, with no turning back. It's more like a hill we're sliding down at ever-increasing speed, Axios' Andrew Freedman reports.

  • During the past few months, we've seen an unprecedented chain of events, all with ties to climate change: a deadly heat wave in the Pacific Northwest that shocked veteran climate researchers ... wildfires raging across the West, well ahead of peak fire season ... and cities and towns flooded in Europe, China and elsewhere.

Optimism has its place in the climate debate:

  • Many of the technologies needed to dramatically reduce emissions, such as renewable energy resources like wind and solar power, are getting more widely adopted. They often have a cost advantage over fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas.
  • Electric vehicles are gaining traction, and money is flowing into next-generation technologies like carbon removal mechanisms.
  • A social movement is pushing for climate action in the U.S. and abroad. And corporations are seeking ways to reduce their emissions in response to pressure from customers and regulators.

But the fact is that we're still on course for at least 3°C (5.4°F) of warming compared to the preindustrial era.

  • The planet has only warmed by about 1.2°C (2.16°F) so far, and we're already seeing the consequences.

Andrew's thought bubble: Being a climate reporter is like being a chronicler of human-caused disasters. My job is to inform, and that means being blunt that climate change is ravaging the Earth.

  • But I also know that too much doom risks leaving people with a sense of fatalism — obscuring the fact that the damage doesn't have to keep getting worse at this pace.

Share this story.

2. Delta dilemma

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Here's the Delta dilemma for government and the media:

  • Reassuring most vaccinated Americans they d0n't need to freak out could backfire if it causes those who are at risk to let down their guard.

Public health experts spent the weekend trying to reassure vaccinated Americans that they're not at a high risk of coronavirus infection, and certainly not of hospitalization or death, Axios' Caitlin Owens reports.

  • At the same time, researchers around the world are trying to determine how much the vaccines' effectiveness against severe disease wanes over time.

Some countries are going ahead with booster shots for immunocompromised and elderly people:

  • Israel has recommended that immunocompromised people and those 60 and older receive a third shot of the Pfizer vaccine.
  • Germany plans to begin offering boosters to the elderly and at-risk beginning in September, AFP reports.
  • U.S. officials increasingly think that at least some Americans will need booster shots in the coming months. Pfizer has also been publicly making the case for boosters.

The bottom line: The vaccines work extremely well, including against Delta. The vaccinated are at much lower risk than those who aren't.

3. Boston's new history

Clockwise from top left: Boston City Council president Andrea Campbell, acting Mayor Kim Janey, at-large councilor Annissa Essaibi George, former City Council president Michelle Wu. Photos: Getty Images

For the first time in history, a white man isn't in serious contention to be the next mayor of Boston, a city with a checkered racial history, Axios' Alexi McCammond reports.

  • Why it matters: The face of Democratic Party politics has changed, with more women and people of color running and winning races.

Boston's seven-candidate field is historically diverse: All but three are women, and all but one are people of color. The primary is Sept. 14.

  • Acting Mayor Kim Janey, who is Black, and city councilor Michelle Wu, who is Asian American, led the field in a Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll in late June.

Wu told Axios: "It’s been a rapid, inspiring transformation in Boston politics over the eight years that I've been honored to serve."

4. ⚡ Breaking: Belarus sprinter seeks asylum
Photo: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

Above: Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, 24, walks into the Polish embassy in Tokyo today to seek asylum, Reuters reports.

  • She refused to board a flight home after she said Belarus officials took her to Haneda Airport against her wishes. Police protected her at the airport. Poland and the Czech Republic publicly offered assistance.

Tsimanouskaya told a Reuters reporter via Telegram that the Belarusian head coach turned up at her room at the athletes' village and told her she had to leave, after she complained about her last-minute entry in a race.

  • The Belarusian Olympic Committee said coaches decided to withdraw her from the Games on doctors' advice about her "emotional, psychological state."

Context: Belarus, a former Soviet state, is run with a tight grip by President Alexander Lukashenko.

5. Rising gas prices hurt climate action

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Cutting oil production before we cut our demand for oil could undermine much of the progress that needs to be made on climate change, Amy Harder writes in her "Harder Line" column.

  • Why it matters: If companies cut back on producing oil but consumers don’t cut back on consuming it, demand will exceed supply. Prices will shoot up. That’s bad for our pocketbooks — and the transition to cleaner energy.

This appears to be the track we're on:

  • Buoyed largely by politics and growing activism, Wall Street is demanding that oil companies invest less in new oil discoveries and more in cleaner energy.
  • In response to that pressure and the collapse in oil prices starting in 2014, overall industry investments in new oil and gas resources have fallen, according to Bob McNally, president of consulting firm Rapidan Energy Group.

Keep reading.

  • Amy Harder, an Axios alumnus, is vice president of publishing at Breakthrough Energy, where she's launching a new journalism initiative.
6. Push for "PBS for the internet"

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photos: Nathan Congleton/NBC via Getty Images

The idea of a new media ecosystem that's nonprofit and publicly funded is gaining traction as a way to shift the power dynamics in today's information wars, Axios' Kim Hart writes in her "Tech Agenda" column.

A new policy paper from the German Marshall Fund proposes a revamp of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to fund not just broadcast stations, but a wide range of digital platforms and potential content producers — including independent journalists, local governments, nonprofits and educational institutions.

  • The goal is to increase the diversity of local civic information, leaning on institutions like libraries and colleges that communities trust.

Keep reading.

7. 🔎 Infrastructure fine print: 2,702 pages

A bipartisan group of senators released the 2,702-page text for their $1 trillion "hard" infrastructure bill late last night, setting a floor debate this week, Axios' Alayna Treene reports.

With the House out for the summer, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer kept senators in town for a rare legislative weekend.

  • The bill needs 60 votes to advance.
  • A final vote could come as soon as this week.

Schumer then plans to move on Democrats' $3.5 trillion budget resolution.

8. 📈 Startup gusher

Investment in U.S. startups for the first half of 2021 hit $150 billion, eclipsing full-year funding every year before 2020, The Wall Street Journal reports (subscription) from PitchBook data:

  • "From 2016 through 2019, there were on average 35 deals a month with funding rounds that reached $100 million or more, according to data provider CB Insights. This year, it is 126 deals a month."
9. Ina's Tokyo diary: A momentous match
While waiting for weightlifting, Ina watches U.S. women’s soccer semifinal vs. Canada. Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

Axios' Ina Fried reports from Tokyo: I'm at Tokyo International Forum for the women's over 87-kilogram weightlifting competition (6:50 a.m. ET).

  • The match has attracted attention the way no other story has at the Olympics, with the possible exception of Simone Biles, because of one particular athlete — Laurel Hubbard of New Zealand.
  • There have been other trans and nonbinary athletes at these Games, but Hubbard is set to be the first openly transgender woman to compete when she makes her first lift.

Ina's thought bubble: I've been covering this story for quite a while now, but the momentousness really started to set in on the bus ride over here.

  • I feel tremendously privileged to be here for this moment, in part because if I weren't here, I’m not sure that — despite the crush of press — there would be another transgender reporter here.

Also from Ina this morning: Elite trans athletes decry youth sports bans.

10. 🎬 What we're watching: Obama doc debuts tomorrow
Photo: Pete Souza/The White House via HBO

Former President Obama turns 60 on Wednesday. Tomorrow, "Obama: In Pursuit of a More Perfect Union," a three-part documentary series, premieres at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max.

  • As the nation grapples with racial history, the series weaves together interviews with friends and critics — along with clips from Obama's speeches and interviews — to shed new light on his pursuit of a more equal and inclusive America, HBO says.

Interviews include Valerie Jarrett, the late Rep. John Lewis, David Axelrod, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Michele Norris, David Remnick, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Henry Louis Gates Jr., David Maraniss, Jon Favreau and more.

  • Executive producers: Peter Kunhardt; Andi Bernstein and Mona Sutphen; Jelani Cobb and Jacqueline Glover.

Watch the trailer.

Photo: Pete Souza/The White House via HBO

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