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Equilibrium/Sustainability — Migrants pulled from sea amid Hurricane Ian’s onslaught

AP Photo/Mary Martin
Visitors to the Southernmost Point buoy brave the high waves from Hurricane Ian crash for photos, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, in Key West, Fla. Ian was forecast to strengthen even more over warm Gulf of Mexico waters, reaching top winds of 140 mph (225 kmh) as it approaches the Florida’s southwest coast.

Seventeen people are missing at sea — and one has been found dead — after Hurricane Ian swamped a migrant boat from Cuba on its way to Florida. 

The boat’s survivors, including four who swam to shore from their sinking craft, described a harrowing journey through the storm, South Florida ABC affiliate WPLG reported.

These 17 people missing are in addition to the estimated 21 people dead in Florida as of Friday morning — a total that is expected to grow, ABC reported.

“Waves 15 meters high, waves, waves, waves, waves,” one migrant told WPLG. “There was so much rain and on the third day, we were left without water.” 

They spent six days at sea before their boat sank, according to WPLG.  

“It’s dangerous, but being free is worth more than the risk we are taking,” the survivor said. 

U.S. law enforcement officials disagreed. After seven migrants made landfall near Fort Lauderdale, Walter Slosar, head of the Miami Sector Border Patrol, warned off migrants on Twitter. 

“Do not risk your life by attempting this journey at sea. Storm surge along with King tide can create treacherous sea conditions even after a storm passes,” Slosar wrote. 

The U.S. Coast Guard rescued three other people from the water on Wednesday, the agency posted said.

Back in Cuba, small groups of Havana residents banged pots and pans in their doorways on Thursday night in protest of the still-offline grid as parts of Cuba entered their third day without power, Reuters reported. 

“It’s all a lie, they don’t get anything done. We still don’t have light and no one tells us why,” one 54-year-old resident told Reuters.

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. We’re Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Send us tips and feedback. Not on the list? Subscribe HERE.

Today we’ll look at how Hurricane Ian could signal the end of Florida’s roaring real estate market. Then we’ll turn to California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has signed into law two bills banning “forever chemicals” from cosmetics and textiles.  

A trail of destruction as Ian enters South Carolina

The outer bands of a revitalized Hurricane Ian blasted into the coast of South Carolina on Friday as the storm made landfall for the second time. 

  • The storm had lost strength in its passage across Florida, but warm Atlantic waters returned it to hurricane strength on Thursday evening, The Washington Post reported.
  • While weaker than it was when it hit Florida, Ian still threatens the Atlantic states with potential flooding, dangerous winds and storm surge. 

A new emergency: President Biden approved an emergency declaration for South Carolina on Thursday evening, according to a White House statement. 

  • The president has put aside his difficult relationship with Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to face the immediate crisis, The Hill reported.
  • “We’re gonna pull together as one team — as one America,” the president told reporters Thursday.

Picking up the pieces: As South Carolina and Virginia braced for impact, Florida residents surveyed the damage in their state.

  • “The damage that was done has been historic,” DeSantis said in a briefing on Thursday, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. “We’ve never seen a flood event like this. We’ve never seen a storm surge of this magnitude.”
  • Across the state, the storm left “a soggy scar” as it “pulverized roads, toppled trees, gutted downtown storefronts and set cars afloat,” The New York Times reported. 

“When you look at Fort Myers Beach in particular, there’s no words to describe it,” Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno told the Times following a helicopter tour of his jurisdiction.

POWER OUTAGES PERSIST

About 2 million Floridians — mostly concentrated along Ian’s diagonal path between Fort Myers and Daytona Beach — remain without power, according to poweroutage.US, a tracking site that aggregates outages across the country.

  • The majority of those without power are customers of utilities Florida Power and Light and Duke Energy.
  • Just under a quarter million Puerto Ricans also remain without power, in addition to more than 200,000 in South Carolina and 70,000 in North Carolina. 

Uninsured losses: Early estimates said insured losses would be about $40 billion — but many losses aren’t insured, the Times reported.

  • Only about 20 percent of people in the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Ian carried flood insurance, according to the newspaper.
  • The remaining 80 percent “have no financial protection from flood losses. … Many families, perhaps thousands of families, will be devastated,” Mark Friedlander of the Insurance Information Institute told Politico.
  • To make matters worse, about 48,000 Florida households dropped their flood coverage after prices went up last year, Politico reported.

Reshaping Florida: The damage from the storm could shake large swaths of Florida from a gung-ho, development-at-all-costs mindset, David Burt of investment research firm DeltaTerra Capital told the outlet.

“In the past, what we’ve seen is economies and importantly real estate markets have been able to absorb these types of events. I think that might change this time around,” Burt said. 

For homeowners, “there’s probably going to be a lot of strategic defaults,” Burt added. “They’re going to migrate. They’re going to leave.”

Chronic underinvestment: “Ian reminds us that we have underinvested in longer-term resilience,” David Hayes, Biden’s special assistant for climate policy, told The Washington Post.

Hayes said that while federal agencies excel in immediate emergency response, “as a country and certainly prior administrations and prior Congresses have not funded the longer-term issues.”

He gave the U.S. a “D” for resilience, but gave Biden an “A” for the president’s ambition in building U.S. climate resilience.

Calif. bans ‘forever chemicals’ in cosmetics, clothes

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) late Thursday night signed two bills that will ban cancer-linked “forever chemicals” from cosmetic products and textiles beginning in 2025. 

But the same evening, the governor vetoed a third bill that would have created a publicly accessible database of consumer items that contain these toxic compounds. 

What are forever chemicals again? They are synthetic compounds — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — known for their ability to persist in the human body and in the environment. 

PFAS are also key ingredients in a variety of household products, including nonstick pans, makeup and waterproof and stain-resistant clothing. 

Cleaning up makeup: The first bill signed into law, AB 2771, will prohibit the manufacture, sale and delivery of any cosmetic product that contains PFAS.

  • This legislation builds upon an existing law that would have banned certain — but not all — types of PFAS from cosmetics by that same deadline.
  • “Californians won’t have to worry that they’re putting their health, or the health of their loved ones, at risk by doing something as routine as applying lotion or wearing makeup,” Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D), the bill’s author, said in a statement.  

How does the bill define cosmetics? As any article for retail sale or professional use whose purpose is “to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, sprayed on, introduced into or otherwise applied to the human body for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance.”  

A big move: “This is a huge deal. California has the largest statewide market for cosmetics and the sixth biggest economy in the world,” Susan Little, senior advocate for California government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, said in a statement.  

Getting PFAS out of clothes and linens: The second bill, AB 1817, will bar the manufacture, distribution and sale of “any new, not previously owned, textile articles that contain regulated PFAS.”  

  • Personal protective equipment and firefighting gear are not included in the ban, as suitable, PFAS-free alternatives to these materials do not yet exist.
  • The bill also will require manufacturers of textile items to provide a certificate of compliance indicating that their product does not contain any regulated PFAS. 

Setting a precedent: “This is a first-in-the nation law to stop the use of these ‘forever chemicals’ in this product category, setting up a national model on the efforts to mitigate PFAS pollution,” Assemblymember Phil Ting (D), who authored the bill, said in a statement.  

These new requirements follow up on two other product bans signed into law last October.  

Those bills, proposed by Friedman and Ting respectively, prohibit the sale and distribution of both food packaging and children’s products that contain PFAS, beginning in 2023. 

THIRD BILL CRUMBLES AMID FISCAL CONCERNS

While environmental groups praised Newsom’s decision to sign the bills into law, they expressed disappointment regarding his decision to veto a third PFAS-related bill. 

That bill, AB 2247, would have required California’s Department of Toxic Substance Control to contract with a data collection entity to create publicly accessible records on items containing PFAS.

  • In his veto statement, Newsom explained that the bill would “cost millions of dollars” and would require increased resources for new staffing and oversight. 
  • “With our state facing lower-than expected revenues over the first few months of this fiscal year, it is important to remain disciplined when it comes to spending,” the governor wrote. 

Federal rules may change: Newsom also noted that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently undergoing rulemaking regarding PFAS reporting.  

This could mean that enacting such a bill in California could be premature, he explained.  

Necessary information: But by requiring the disclosure of PFAS use, AB 2247 could have “set the stage to allow the state to more effectively regulate the use of these chemicals,” according to Little, from the Environmental Working Group.  

“While we realize that the governor chose to veto the bill to save costs, without this information, the state’s local governments and water agencies will pay many times over to clean up toxic PFAS from our water,” she said.  

To read the full story, please click here.


Lighter click: Korean condiment faces climate crunch

South Korea is building two enormous storage facilities to warehouse cabbages for kimchi, part of an attempt to protect the national condiment against climate change, Reuters reported.

  • Cabbage is the key ingredient for kimchi — a spicy, fermented condiment popular in Korea and exported abroad.
  • South Korean kimchi makers are feeling the heat from a spicy combination of climate-induced cabbage shortages and competition from China. 

The facilities will cost $40 million and be the approximate size of three football fields, according to Reuters.

Climate shift: South Korea’s farmers have struggled with years of weak harvests as climate change has ushered in heavier rainfall and rising heat, Reuters reported.

  • That’s pushed up cabbage prices — and driven many Korean kimchi makers out of the business.
  • The new warehouses could lower prices by preserving bumper cabbage crops for use in leaner times.

Follow-up Friday 

Checking in on stories we covered throughout the week. 

Putin blames US and allies for Nord Stream sabotage 

Rain forest on the ballot in Brazil’s weekend election

  • Indigenous activists in the Amazon are risking their lives to defend the forest. Brazil’s presidential election on Sunday will help determine the Amazon’s fate, as pro-logging incumbent Jair Bolsonaro faces a likely loss to pro-conservation challenger (and former president) Lula da Silva, Bloomberg reported. 

Illinois considering taxing electric vehicle charging 

Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you next week.

Tags Biden Biden administration Climate change Forever chemicals Gavin Newsom Hurricane Ian natural disasters PFAS power outages

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