Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Tesla factory reopens as Shanghai lockdown persists

Ding Ting/Xinhua via AP

Tesla’s Shanghai factory is one of 666 plants that Beijing is allowing to reopen on Tuesday as it attempts to walk a tightrope between curbing the country’s worst coronavirus outbreak and maintaining the health of its most crucial industries, Reuters reported. 

The lockdown is necessary in part because as of April 15, only 62 percent of Shanghai residents over 60 were fully vaccinated, according to Reuters. 

Under the “closed loop” system, in which employees live and work in the factories to avoid possible contagion, Tesla is providing them with sleeping bags and mattresses and, in the absence of designated dormitories, requiring them to sleep on the floor, Bloomberg reported. 

Before the lockdowns, Tesla had been on track to produce about 683,000 vehicles per year from the Shanghai factory, according to the company.

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 look at the avian flu, which is ravaging U.S. flocks after ripping across Europe and the Middle East. Then we’ll turn our attention to the U.K., where dozens were arrested this weekend amid ongoing protests against government fuel investments.   

Bird flu spreads out of control

“Highly pathogenic avian influenza” has killed 36 bald eagles and 27 million domestic turkeys and chickens as of Monday, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). 

The virulent disease is sending prices of eggs and chicken meat skyrocketing as migratory waterfowl transmit the illness across the U.S., where it is killing everything from turkeys to great horned owls. 

Top line: The outbreak of avian flu, the first serious outbreak in the U.S. since 2015, is part of a worldwide epidemic that devastated flocks in Europe in the Middle East last year, according to Wired. 

With outbreaks this weekend in Pennsylvania, Idaho and Utah, the disease is now present in 30 states. And experts say it is far from being contained. 

A ruthless killer: “Highly pathogenic avian influenza” — so-called because it spreads so easily — is rare in humans but kills virtually all birds that are infected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Tragic, symbolic deaths: The virus has caused the deaths — by contagion or euthanasia — of 36 bald eagles in 14 states, according to USA Today. 

A nest of great horned owls had to be euthanized, as well, Minnesota Public Radio reported. 

Take down bird feeders: With plenty of other food available this time of year, birds don’t need bird feeders, which can be vectors to spread the virus, Victoria Hall of the Minnesota Raptor Center told MPR.   

With June’s warm weather, the dense bird flocks will begin to disperse, “and we’ll see these numbers go way down,” Hall said. 

But that’s little consolation for farmers: The first domestic U.S. case appeared in a game bird in January in South Carolina, followed in February by an outbreak at a turkey farm in Indiana, according to the USDA. 

Since then, nearly 27 million birds have died or been euthanized, and farmers are struggling to find an effective way to protect their flocks and their investments, The Washington Post reported. 

That’s particularly relevant given the damage the disease incurred on Europe and Asia  — leading to 12 million chickens destroyed in France alone, according to Reuters. 

PROTECTION IS COMPLICATED

One common method of spread seems to be infected feces falling as birds fly overhead — landing in farm yards or even getting mixed with dust and carried by the wind, according to Wired. 

Farmers are imposing strict biosecurity protocols and even trying to deter wild birds with lasers, according to the Post. 

Disruptions compound: But none of that has been enough to keep the disease from compounding disruptions in the egg and poultry markets — adding to supply chain disturbances, fuel price hikes and other factors that are sending prices creeping up, the Post reported. 

A strange epidemic: Experts have been alarmed to see that this epidemic hasn’t behaved like 2015 — they haven’t been able to get a handle on what’s spreading it, the Post reported. 

One fraught solution: The USDA is looking into poultry vaccination programs, according to news station KSL. 

That’s a step the agency has historically avoided, in part because of fears among foreign buyers that vaccinated chickens can be hard to distinguish from sick ones, and — as in humans vaccinated for coronavirus — may still be able to pass on the virus, Wired reported. 

Things may now be bad enough to justify it: “We are two months into the outbreak now, and the safety protocols haven’t worked,” Grady Ferguson of Gro Intelligence told the Post. 

“I don’t want to be a Chicken Little, but I think it’s going to be worse than [2015],” Ferguson added. 

Dozens arrested amid climate protests in London

Six individuals, including two Olympic athletes, were detained in London on Saturday for climbing and gluing themselves to an oil tanker, while dozens more were arrested for scaling the city’s Marble Arch during a weekend-long climate demonstration, the BBC reported. 

These incidents were the latest in a spate of protests linked to the global Extinction Rebellion movement, a group “that calls for mass civil disobedience to provoke immediate action to avert the worst of the climate crisis,” as described by New York Magazine. 

What happened this weekend in London? On Saturday, Olympic gold medal-winning canoeist Etienne Stott and sailor Laura Baldwin were among those who mounted a Shell oil tanker, standing above a sign that read “love in action,” according to the BBC. 

Activists gathered in Hyde Park and then marched through the British capital, waving flags, setting off flares and dancing in the streets, the BBC reported. 

Eight activists also locked themselves in a car on the road, while two others then glued themselves to the vehicle’s roof, according to the outlet. 

Why now? British activists have spent the past few weeks been urging their government to halt all investments in fossil fuels, The Guardian reported. 

“I am acting to try to disrupt the toxic fossil fuel industry that is destroying everything we hold dear,” Stott told journalists, according to The Guardian. 

The weekend’s uptick follows the decision of several firms — including ExxonMobil — to obtain injunctions that would prevent protesters from blocking their operations, The Guardian reported. 

Peaceful protest or disruption? The companies secured the injunctions to stop protests that the government said have caused widespread chaos over the past month, Reuters reported. 

“While we value the right to peaceful protest, it is crucial that these do not cause disruption to people’s everyday lives,” U.K. energy minister Greg Hands told Reuters on Friday, prior to the weekend’s events. 

“That’s why I’m pleased to see oil companies taking action to secure injunctions at their sites, working with local police forces to arrest those who break the law and ensure deliveries of fuel can continue as normal,” Hands added. 

Industry following government’s lead: The opposition Labour Party has also been calling for such injunctions, stressing that the protests have led to shortages at fuel stations, according to Reuters. 

Police have arrested about 600 people since the protests began earlier this month — not counting the additional detainments this weekend, according to Reuters. 

EXTINCTION REBELLION IS BY NO MEANS LIMITED TO ENGLAND 

While the movement originated in the U.K., Extinction Rebellion has a presence around the world and describes itself as “a decentralized, international and politically non-partisan movement” that employs “non-violent direct action and civil disobedience” to urge government action on climate issues. 

Post-pandemic comeback: Extinction Rebellion’s roots stem from British activist Gail Bradbrook’s 2016 visit to a psychedelic retreat in Costa Rica — after which she teamed up with activist farmer Roger Hallam and a group of academics to form the movement, according to New York Magazine. 

While the group lost momentum during the initial coronavirus lockdowns, activists are now resurfacing with vigor. 

About 100 people from as far as Vermont and Pennsylvania recently gathered at the First Unitarian Congregational Society in Brooklyn Heights for training “in nonviolent resistance to save the planet,” New York Magazine reported. 

‘Spring Rebellion’: These individuals are planning to participate in Extinction Rebellion’s largest-ever U.S. campaign: 11 days of protests aimed at disrupting the city dubbed “Spring Rebellion,” according to New York Magazine. 

“Civil disobedience is the one thing that I feel that I can do,” Karen Bixler, an 80-year-old retiree who participated in the training, told New York Magazine. 

“Sometimes there’s a call to get all the old folks out front because maybe people will feel differently about beating up their grandma than beating up punk kids,” she added. 

Monday Miscellanies

Container ship set free, jets flying without fuel and preparations underway for massive electricity scale-ups. 

Container ship stuck in the Chesapeake liberated at last 

  • The Ever Forward, a container ship that had been stuck in the Chesapeake Bay for more than a month was finally freed on Sunday morning by two barges and five tugboats — after two previously unsuccessful attempts to dislodge it, CBS News reported.   

Hedging bets on an aircraft with no need for jet fuel 

  • Construction is underway on a Vermont-based aircraft that The New York Times described as “a flying battery” — a fuel-less plane that could take off and land without a runway and recharge quietly like a drone. Alia, built by Beta Technologies, is already attracting investors, including UPS, Amazon, the U.S. military, according to the Times.  

Utilities prepare for clean energy with massive scale-up in electric infrastructure 

One more thing… Check out TheHill.com tonight to find out which U.S. river has been deemed the country’s “most endangered” waterway.

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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