Equilibrium/Sustainability — Cannabis industry faces product safety concerns


Cannabis varieties with identical names can differ wildly in the chemicals they contain — leaving customers in danger of unpredictable, unpleasant or unwanted effects, a new study has found.

“The prevailing labeling system is not an effective or safe way to provide information about these products,” Brian Keegan of University of Colorado Boulder said in a statement. 

Even in six states where the drug is legal and regulated, product names and mandatory labeling requirement give customers little insight into the potential impacts of the products they are about to purchase, according to the study published in PLOS One. 

Different cannabis strains can have widely divergent effects — with some better suited to aid sleep or relieve pain, and others indicated to increase appetite or alleviate depression. 

But by surveying 90,000 samples across six states, the CU Boulder team found that neither variant names (like Durban Poison or Blue Dream) nor classic distinctions (indica, sativa and hybrid) bore much consistent resemblance to the chemical composition — and therefore effects — of a given product. 

Two similarly-named plants from different dispensaries, in other words, were liable to have quite different impacts — a lack of predictability that poses “a real challenge for an industry that is trying to professionalize itself,” Keegan added. 

“A farmer can’t just pick up an apple and decide to call it a Red Delicious,” said study co-author Nick Jikomes, who runs the science department at cannabis marketplace Leafly.com.  

“But that is not the case for the cannabis industry,” Jikomes added.

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. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

Today we’ll take a look at the latest steps California is taking in an effort to mitigate the impacts of ongoing drought conditions and how air pollution may worsen COVID-19 infections.

Californians may need to cut back more water 

As Californians continue to grapple with ongoing drought conditions, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) warned residents on Monday that mandatory cutbacks could occur if statewide water use doesn’t significantly decline.  

“Every water agency across the state needs to take more aggressive actions to communicate about the drought emergency and implement conservation measures,” Newsom said during a Monday meeting with leaders from the state’s largest urban water suppliers. 

Voluntary reductions weren’t enough: Last July, Newsom declared a drought emergency and called upon Californians to voluntarily cut their water use by 15 percent.  

But by the end of March 2022, after the state failed to meet this goal, the governor issued an executive order asking local agencies to boost their response to the ongoing drought, according to his office. 

Stepping up efforts: Local water agencies have pushed for increased flexibility on water conservation and drought response, which they have argued are more effective than statewide mandates, the governor noted. 

While Newsom acknowledged that he embraced this approach, he called upon water agencies on Monday to step up their efforts amid extreme drought conditions. 

Making every drop count: If those localized conservation efforts fail to prove sufficient this summer, Newsom warned that the state could be forced to enact mandatary restrictions. 

“Californians made significant changes since the last drought but we have seen an uptick in water use, especially as we enter the summer months,” Newsom said.  

“We all have to be more thoughtful about how to make every drop count,” he added. 

Statewide measures under discussion: The California Water Resources Control Board spent all day Tuesday debating whether to prohibit the watering of “non-functional” turf — lawns that serve only as decoration — in commercial, industrial and institutional settings. 

What’s non-functional turf? This type of turf serves “solely ornamental” purposes and is not used for recreational activities, sports or community events, Chris Hyun, of the Water Board’s Office of Research, Planning and Performance, explained at Tuesday’s meeting.  

Also under discussion was a measure requiring local agencies to implement water use restrictions — to account for the possibility that supplies could be 20 percent lower due to extreme weather. 

A vote on these issues had not yet occurred by Equilibrium’s press time.  

Leaning in: “Coming into the summer months here, we know here we need to prepare for a drier next year,” E. Joaquin Esquivel, chair of the Water Board, said at the Tuesday hearing.  

“We need to activate Californians and really lean in to the conservation that we’re needing to see,” he added. 

Air pollution may worsen COVID-19  

Certain air pollutants may worsen the impacts of a coronavirus infection, in turn increasing the likelihood of hospitalization and possibly even death.  

Scientists have found that Ontario, Canada, residents who lived in areas with higher levels of three major pollutants — fine particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and ground-level ozone — were at greater risk of being admitted to the intensive care unit for COVID-19. 

Risk of death: Chronic exposure to ozone in particular carried an elevated risk of death from COVID-19, according to their findings, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on Tuesday.  

Looking back at 2020: To draw these conclusions, researchers from the Canadian government’s Health Canada analyzed data from all 151,105 people ages 20 years and older who had confirmed coronavirus infections in 2020 in Ontario.  

Three common culprits: Information about fine particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and ground-level ozone was readily available to the researchers, as these substances are all regularly monitored by the Canadian government, the authors noted.  

These pollutants are emitted from a variety of different sources, including fuel combustion and reactions of volatile organic compounds or other chemicals. 

Possible pathways: Long-term exposure to air pollution, the authors explained, could increase the risk of developing severe COVID-19 by several different mechanisms.  

For example, air pollutants can reduce immune responses and antimicrobial activities in the lungs, thereby boosting viral loads, according to the authors.  

These substances can also cause chronic inflammation and the over-production of a specific receptor protein that enables the entry of coronavirus into human cells, the researchers added.  

Public health implications: “Given the ongoing pandemic, our findings that underscore the link between chronic exposure to air pollution and more severe COVID-19 could have important implications for public health and health systems,” the authors stated. 

To read the full story, please click here

Frackers hold off on new drilling

Even with oil and natural gas prices soaring, the fracking industry hasn’t stepped up new drilling initiatives. 

That’s bad news for price-conscious consumers, fossil fuel-dependent drivers and energy-strapped power companies but good news for fossil fuel company investors.

No more ‘pay to drill’: CEOs of fracking companies like Pioneer Natural Resources are no longer based on how much oil and gas they produced, after such policies crashed prices throughout the 2010s, The Wall Street Journal reported. 

Restoring financial order: Instead of spending on new drilling, Pioneer is funneling its windfall into buying back stock and paying off debt, according to finance news site SeekingAlpha. 

Stock buybacks allow companies to raise the value of existing shares, according to Forbes. 

Scant relief for gas prices: Fracking is one of the quickest forms of fossil fuel drilling to yield a marketable product — so the decision of those companies to stay out means little prospect that gas prices will fall this summer. 

How high? Some analysts say average prices could top $6 per gallon nationwide this summer, according to CNET. 

Weighing drilling: The consequences of high fossil fuel prices have to be balanced against the danger of more drilling, as Fatih Birol, chief of the International Energy Agency, told CNBC at this week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. 

Evaluating the disruptions caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Birol said that the “response should not lock in our energy infrastructure to a terrible world.”  

Carbon reduction isn’t enough: Slashing fossil fuel emissions alone — without also reducing pollutants like soot, nitrous oxide and methane — won’t be enough to head off dangerous levels of global warming, according to a study in the  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

That’s because particulate pollution from fossil fuels also slightly cools the climate.

Cut ’em all or else: “If we don’t also bring down non-CO2 warming, we cook,” University of London climate scientist Euan Nisbet told Reuters. 

Ailing nuclear offers relief for renewable delays 

Supply chain problems are hampering the rollout of wind and solar energy — even as major investors and energy organizations clamor for the pace of that development to increase. 

That has many environmentalists fighting for a power source they long sought to shut down: Nuclear energy. 

But even with that support — and backing from the Biden administration — the fate of three such zero-emission plants hangs in the balance. 

Recommitting to renewables? Hesitation from major investors like BlackRock to commit to renewables has led to a policy seesaw between investment in fossil fuels and green energy, the Financial Times reported. 

But the solution is “not to abandon the energy transition but to double down,” Ben Caldecott of the U.K. Center for Greening Finance and Investment told the Times.  

Supply problems strangle investment: Complicating matters further are ongoing shortages and soaring costs in supplies of steel, critical materials and photovoltaic cells, The Guardian reported. This situation is leading to bottlenecks in the rolling-out of new renewable power plants, according to The Guardian. 

Coupled with shipping delays from China, the sector is experiencing what one insurer described to The Guardian as “the perfect storm right now.” 

Renewal for nuclear: Those immediate supply chain problems — and the perpetual problem of what to do when wind and solar aren’t meeting base-level electricity demand — has some old-line environmentalists rethinking a long-held opposition to nuclear energy, The Washington Post reported. 

“If the pace of shoving fossil fuels off the grid and out of the economy were five times faster, I would not have spoken up,” former anti-nuclear activist Charles Komanoff told the Post, regarding his newfound support for nuclear energy. 

One down, two on life support: Komanoff has been particularly speaking up in favor of Diablo Canyon, a facility located between San Franscisco and Los Angeles. 

The aging nuclear plant is one of several to receive funds from the Biden administration — and $6 billion from last year’s bipartisan infrastructure bill — aimed at keeping them running, Reuters reported. 

Geopolitical concerns: A revival of nuclear power in the U.S. would run up against its own supply problem, as Russia dominates uranium-refining supply chains, CNBC reported. 

Tuesday Troubles 

Hurricanes brewing in the Gulf, climate change fuels India’s heat wave and Africa’s Great Green Wall needs funds and government support. 

US hurricane season coming in strong 

  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is projecting that 2022 hurricane activity will be above average for the seventh year in a row, Zack Budryk reported for The Hill, with 14-21 named storms and about 10 hurricanes likely to happen between June 1 and Nov. 30.   

Climate change made deadly heat wave 30 times more likely 

  • The effects of climate change increased the odds of India and Pakistan’s ongoing extreme heat wave by 30 times, a report from international climate science collaborative World Weather Attribution has found. 

Africa’s prospective forest wall under threat 

  • An ambitious plan to hold back the growing Sahara with nearly 5,000 miles of forest — dubbed the “Great Green Wall” — is stalling amid funding challenges, security threats and political deadlock, The Associated Press reported. 

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


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