Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson

Reporter

Born in Texas and based in San Francisco, Josh covers tech, labor, drug policy, and the environment.

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US Coal Exports Have Erased All The CO2 Savings From the Fracking Boom

| Mon Jul. 28, 2014 6:37 PM EDT

The domestic fracking boom has been widely celebrated as a godsend in the fight against climate change. In 2007, cheap natural gas began replacing dirtier coal as the fuel of choice in US power plants. By 2012, the switchover was annually saving an estimated 86 million tons of CO2, the carbon equivalent of taking 21 million cars off the road. That's obviously a huge accomplishment, but it comes with a lesser known catch: All of that coal we're no longer using is still getting dug up, sold off, and spewed into the atmosphere.

The carbon pollution savings from our switch from coal to gas has been more than canceled out by an increase in our coal exports, according to a recent study by Shakeb Afsah of the group CO2 Scorecard. After the domestic market for coal dried up in 2007, US exports of steam coal increased by 83 million tons, resulting in the release of an additional 149 million metric tons of CO2. That's 73 percent more CO2 than Americans have saved so far by ditching the black stuff.

The study is mentioned today in a great story by AP's Dina Cappiello, who looks at whether the coal exports will ultimately increase carbon emissions. Coal companies point to studies suggesting international demand for coal is fairly inelastic, meaning that if US coal exports suddenly disappeared, they would simply be replaced by coal from somewhere else. Yet other studies conclude that the US exports depress prices, driving up demand and delaying a switch to cleaner options.

As I've previously noted, huge new coal export terminals proposed on the West Coast have become the latest flash points in the climate wars. Cappiello points out that a single ship full of Appalachian coal, exported from Virginia to South America, contains enough greenhouse gas to match the annual emissions of a small American power plant.

UPDATE: Cappiello's story has spawned new debate over whether coal exports increase emissions. Andrew Revkin weighs in, and CO2 Scorecard responds.

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Twitter Releases Its Diversity Stats. And Boy, Are They Embarrassing.

| Wed Jul. 23, 2014 7:37 PM EDT

Twitter today followed in the footsteps of Google, Yahoo, LinkedIn, and Facebook by releasing statistics on the race and gender of its workforce. The company certainly deserves credit for voluntarily making its diversity stats public, unlike, say, Apple. "Like our peers, we have a lot of work to do," Janet Van Huysse, its VP of diversity and inclusion, admits on the company blog. But perhaps that's an understatement; Twitter actually lags far behind its peers on some key measures. For instance, only 1 out of every 10 Twitter tech employees is a woman:

Twitter

In case you're wondering, other large tech companies have significantly better gender diversity (though it's still abysmal compared to professions such as law or medicine). At Facebook and Yahoo, 15 percent of tech workers are women. At Google and LinkedIn, it's 17 percent. In 2010, Mike Swift of the San Jose Mercury News found that women held 24 percent of computer and mathematics jobs in Silicon Valley and 27 percent of those jobs nationally (though those categories may be broader than how they're defined by leading tech companies, as Tasneem Raja explores in this great piece on America's growing gap in tech literacy).

Unlike its peers, Twitter can't entirely blame its dearth of female coders on the talent pipeline: About 18 percent of computer science graduates are women. Instead, Van Huysse points to a slew of efforts to "move the needle" at Twitter, such as supporting the groups Girls Who Code and sf.girls and hosting "Girl Geek Dinners." 

As other reporters have noted, major tech firms started releasing their workforce data shortly after I obtained a batch of Silicon Valley diversity figures from the Labor Department and began asking them for comment. But pressure to release the stats has also come from a campaign by Color of Change and Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Push Coalition, which have demanded the stats during a string of private meetings with Valley execs, and last week launched a Twitter-based campaign to urge Twitter to make its diversity numbers public. Strikingly, only 1 percent of Twitter's tech workforce and 2 percent of its overall workforce is African-American:

Jackson argues that improving Twitter's diversity isn't just the right thing to do; it's also a good business decision. It turns out that "Black Twitter" isn't just a meme. According to a recent Pew survey, 22 percent of African-American internet users are on Twitter, while only 16 percent of White internet users tweet. Meanwhile, usage of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ is roughly the same between Blacks and Whites.

In short, Twitter might make more money by hiring more people who reflect its audience. "There is no talent deficit, there's an opportunity deficit," Jackson said in a press release responding to Twitter's data. "When everyone is 'in,' everyone wins."

Quick Reads: "The Skeleton Crew" by By Deborah Halber

| Tue Jul. 8, 2014 5:41 PM EDT
The Skeleton Crew

The Skeleton Crew

By Deborah Halber

SIMON & SCHUSTER

Tent Girl. The Lady of the Dunes. The Head in the Bucket. These are just a few of the nicknames given to America's 40,000 unidentified corpses by amateur web sleuths. For decades, members of this thriving, heroic, and macabre internet subculture have been cracking cold cases that have long stumped law enforcement. But what motivates them to spend countless hours poring over police reports and autopsy photos? Deborah Halber replaces the classic whodunit with what you might call a whosolvesit. She discovers that many web sleuths throw themselves into their dark hobby to escape their own damaged lives. Some find their share of fame and fortune; others, only more demons.

This review originally appeared in our July/August issue of Mother Jones. 

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