Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — The future of climate-conscious dining


Restaurant owners who want to be climate conscious should tell customers how much carbon emissions went into each dish, as well as offer a lower-carbon option as the default menu item, a new study has found. 

For example, restaurant customers were more likely to choose low-emission falafel over high-emission beef when the menu included the relative climate costs, according to the study, published in PLOS Climate on Wednesday. 

The effects were even stronger when restaurants made the low-carbon option the default choice — making customers aware that they would need to “spend” more carbon to upgrade. 

Including carbon costs “may be one of the easiest things restaurant owners can do” to make their businesses more climate friendly, the authors said in a statement. 

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 how drought has taken a monumental toll on the planet over the past decade. Then we’ll look at how fossil fuel companies are betting against efforts to get climate change under control. 

Droughts increasingly getting worse: UN 

The world has hit a “crossroads” when it comes to managing droughts, which have increased 29 percent in a generation and are only getting worse, according to the United Nations. 

With the duration and number of droughts rising and severe weather increasingly responsible for disasters in developing countries, U.N. officials called for a global commitment to drought preparedness in a report released on Wednesday. 

Big day for drought: The report, “Drought in Numbers 2022,” was published to mark Drought Day at the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification’s 15th Conference of Parties, which is being held in Côte d’Ivoire through next week.  

Small steps haven’t worked: “We are at a crossroads,” Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary of the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification, said in a statement.  

“We need to steer toward the solutions rather than continuing with destructive actions, believing that marginal change can heal systemic failure,” he added. 

The report’s key findings:  

  • There has been a 29 percent rise in the number and duration of droughts since 2000
  • From 1970 to 2019, weather, climate and water hazards accounted for half of world disasters and 45 percent of disaster-related deaths, mostly in developing countries
  • Droughts represent 15 percent of natural disasters but take the greatest human toll — causing 650,000 deaths from 1970 to 2019
  • From 1998 to 2017, droughts caused about $124 billion in global economic losses

America is not immune: In the U.S., crop failures and economic losses associated with drought reached several hundred billion dollars over the past century — and $249 billion alone since 1980, according to the report. 

Several key solutions:  

  • Restoration of landscapes “mimicking nature” that contain “functional ecological systems” 
  • Paradigm shift from “reactive” and “crisis-based” governance to “proactive” and “risk-based” drought management   
  • Reduced consumption of animals 
  • Establishment of effective early warning systems across boundaries 
  • Deployment of more precise technologies, like satellites and artificial intelligence  
  • Mobilization of sustainable finance 
  • Inclusion of entrepreneurs and young people in these processes  

To read the full story, please click here.  


Despite calls from Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) for Californians to cut water usage, the state’s consumption jumped considerably this past March, according to The Associated Press.  

Last summer, Newsom asked residents to voluntarily slash water use by 15 percent compared to 2020 levels, as the state’s water reservoirs declined to dangerous lows, the AP reported.  

Instead, water use surged: State officials found that Californians used an average of 77 gallons per person per day in March — an 18.9 percent increase over March 2020.  

Meanwhile, the first three months of 2022 have been the state’s driest on record, according to the AP.  

What happened? Water experts told the Bay Area News Group on Tuesday that the surge in water use might be due to “disaster fatigue” or could be the result of “an unusually dry spring or the lack of statewide mandatory conservation standards.”  

“Drought? Californians apparently don’t care,” the Bay Area News Group analysis observed.  

LA tightens restrictions: The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, meanwhile, announced on Tuesday that it would be moving to the third phase of its emergency water conservation plan, our colleague Olafimihan Oshin reported.  

This stricter phase will require customers to reduce the number of outdoor watering days from three to two, a statement from the department said.  

Warnings, then fines: Those LA residents who don’t comply with the regulations will receive a warning, followed by escalating fines for each violation, the Los Angeles Times reported. 

Big oil bets big against climate action 

Many of the world’s largest oil companies are betting that efforts to solve the climate crisis will fail — and they’re investing enormous amounts of money in new projects that would help make that failure a foregone conclusion. 

Release the carbon bombs: A new report from The Guardian identified 195 new facilities planned for the next decade that the outlet described as “carbon bombs”: Oil and gas extraction facilities that would each release more than a billion metric tons of carbon dioxide over their lifetimes. 

The U.S., Canada and Australia rank among the countries with the biggest planned expansions, The Guardian found. 

The numbers are staggering: If they come to fruition, these new projects would release greenhouse gasses that — in the short term — equal a decade of emissions from China, the world’s leading carbon polluter, The Guardian found. 

Over their full lifetimes, they would release the equivalent of 18 years of current global carbon emissions, The Guardian found. 

No room in the budget: That’s in spite of a report last year from the International Energy Agency — set up in the 1970s to maintain oil and gas supplies — that new fossil fuel developments would make it impossible to cut emissions sufficiently to ensure a safe climate.  

Why they’re doing it: Betting against climate action has historically been a good bet for the oil majors.  

How so? In the three decades since the United Nations’s inaugural climate conference in Rio in 1992 — which first took up the issue of how carbon emissions from fossil fuels were changing the climate — the six largest oil and gas companies have made about $2 trillion dollars, according to a 2020 study by Taxpayers for Common Sense. 

Usual business, unusual times: “Most oil and gas companies are just proceeding with business as usual,” Nils Bartsch of environmental nonprofit Urgewald told The Guardian. 

“Some just do not care,” Bartsch said. “Some do not see their responsibility because governments around the world let them proceed, although of course these governments are often influenced by the industry.” 


Where they aren’t investing in new fields, oil and gas companies like Shell are largely meeting their carbon reduction promises by selling off their old, most-polluting ones — largely to unknown, and largely unregulated, foreign oil companies, according to a report released on Tuesday by the Environmental Defense Fund. 

Shell has called this kind of “divestment” — sewing off its polluting assets without shutting them down — a key part of its pathway to become a net-zero business. 

New owner, more emissions: The new owners released even more carbon dioxide and methane than the oil majors who sold them, study coauthor Andrew Baxter told Gizmodo. 

Selling responsibility: “The oil and gas industry can sell their oil and gas assets for whatever reason that they want, but they can’t sell their climate responsibility,” Baxter said. 

To divest or not: This problem — that a sale doesn’t equal a reduction in emissions — is part of why Larry Fink, CEO of asset manager BlackRock, told MIT’s Sloan Business School that BlackRock shouldn’t sell off its fossil fuel holdings

Fink has often argued that BlackRock’s ownership of coal, oil and gas companies can help make the companies it invests in greener. But his company just announced plans to vote against many climate resolutions proposed this year by shareholders, the Financial Times reported. 

Another kind of ticking bomb: These new fossil fuel assets also represent a large financial risk, according to tech news site Ars Technica. 

Since they aren’t compatible with the world’s climate goals, new — and existing — fossil fuel developments could end up “stranded” by future climate action, Ars Technica reported. 

That could cause a cascade of destruction across the pension funds, banks and investment houses who have bought into them, according to Ars Technica. 

There’s a bigger danger: That fossil fuel companies will be able to use the threat of stranded assets to persuade governments to keep backing more expansion. 


The Opioid Crisis & the Criminal Justice System, Wednesday, May 18 at 1 p.m. ET

According to SAMHSA, nearly 20 percent of incarcerated individuals have reported regular opioid use. Yet only a small percentage of them are receiving medication-assisted treatment in jails and prisons. How do we improve access to addiction treatment within the criminal justice system? What efforts are needed to ensure a safe and successful return to society and the workforce? The Hill hosts a discussion on improving addiction treatment and recovery across the criminal justice system with Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.), Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio), Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey Kincaid and more. RSVP now.

Wednesday Worries

Things to lose sleep over.

Memorial Day weekend driving trips could come with hefty pump prices 

  • Gas prices may spike again ahead of Memorial Day, as existing hikes combine with the first summer driving season since 2019 without major pandemic-related restrictions, our colleague Zack Budryk reported for The Hill.   

Illegal construction in Puerto Rico leaves island more vulnerable to climate change 

  • Puerto Rico’s Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation following an ongoing probe into illegal construction on the island’s coastline, the Weather Channel reported, and found that more than 3,600 protected mangrove trees were damaged or destroyed. 

EVs burn hotter than gas cars 

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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