Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Wetlands losing race against rising seas

AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File

Climate change is drowning out the wetlands that provide critical defense against the worst impacts of global warming, a new study has found. 

Landscapes like salt marshes and mangrove swamps are essential tools for holding down enormous amounts of carbon, managing floodwaters and blunting the effects of increasingly severe storms, according to the study, published on Wednesday in Science Advances. 

“In some ways, this is a race … between what [carbon dioxide] can do and what sea level can do,” Lewis Ziska of Columbia University said in a statement accompanying the report. 

For the past two decades, the plants appeared to be pulling ahead — boosted by rising levels of carbon dioxide, which helps them grow. That gave scientists hope that this dynamic would allow wetland ecosystems to climb out of danger faster than seas could rise, according to the study.  

Now wetland plants appear to be losing that race.  

Carbon dioxide’s former boost to plants “has always been one of the silver linings of climate change,” coauthor Adam Langley of Villanova University said in the statement. 

That appears to no longer be true, Langley said, adding that “the silver lining to me just got a little cloudier.” 

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 four key climate change indicators that shattered records in 2021 — followed by a Colorado-Arizona plan to pull those gases back down to Earth. Then we’ll examine the Biden administration’s thaw in the oil trade with Venezuela and how solar panels can gather power by night.

Four climate indicators broke records in 2021: UN 

Four key climate change indicators — greenhouse gas emissions, sea level rise, ocean heat and ocean acidification — broke worldwide records in 2021, the United Nations weather agency announced on Wednesday. 

The snarling face of climate change: Extreme weather, which the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) described as “the day-to-day face of climate change,” resulted in hundreds of billions of dollars in economic losses last year.  

Such conditions also took a heavy toll on human lives — rattling global food and water security and causing displacement, the WMO found in its State of the Global Climate in 2021 report.   

“Today’s State of the Climate report is a dismal litany of humanity’s failure to tackle climate disruption,” Secretary-General António Guterres said in a video message on Wednesday morning.  

An urgent moment: Guterres described fossil fuels as “a dead end,” stressing that the ongoing war in Ukraine and its effects on energy prices provide “yet another wake-up call” that “the only sustainable future is a renewable one.”  

Four indicators that broke records: 

  • Greenhouse gas concentrations climbed to a global high in 2020 — to 149 percent of pre-industrial levels — and continued to rise in 2021 and early 2022.  
  • Ocean heat levels reached record highs in 2021 and were expected to continue warming in the future — a shift that the U.N. said could not be reversed within a thousand years.  
  • Ocean acidification, which threatens marine organisms and ecosystem services, also broke records in 2021. Surface pH in the open ocean dropped to “the lowest it has been for at least 26,000 years.” 
  • Global mean sea level climbed to new highs in 2021 — and its rate of increase went up as well. Mean sea level in 2013-2021 rose at double the rate than that of the 1993-2021 period.  

Warming the planet for generations to come: “The heat trapped by human-induced greenhouse gases will warm the planet for many generations to come,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement.  

Taalas stressed that such impacts will persist unless means to remove carbon from the atmosphere are invented. 

To read the full story, please click here

Local governments scaling up carbon removal 

The local governments of Boulder County, Colo., and Flagstaff, Ariz., are recruiting other “climate-forward” jurisdictions in the Four Corners region of the West to scale up carbon removal technologies together.  

While Boulder County and Flagstaff initially declared their intent to form the Four Corners Carbon Removal Coalition last November, the two jurisdictions announced this week that they would begin requesting proposals from interested entities in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah this summer.  

Banding together: “What we do locally is a drop in the bucket in terms of emission reductions,” Susie Strife, director of Sustainability, Climate Action & Resilience for Boulder County, said at a launch webinar aired on Tuesday.  

“But if we can band together and get more local governments engaged in this, that’s when I think we can really have a larger impact,” Strife added. 

The governments will be working with OpenAir, a volunteer-led collective that aims to accelerate the development of carbon removal technologies.  

What, exactly, is carbon removal? Essentially, carbon removal means sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere — either through natural methods like trees or through technological approaches that are still emerging.   

Like what? OpenAir co-founder Chris Neidl said in the webinar that he sees carbon removal as “a range of different activities that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and durably store it in geological terrestrial ocean reservoirs or in products.” 

‘Carbonating’ concrete: The initial proposals evaluated by the Four Corners Carbon Coalition will focus on projects that sequester carbon in concrete, which is capable of sucking in carbon and fixing it permanently through a process called “carbonation,” Neidl explained. 

Pooling resources: The Four Corners Carbon Removal Coalition is aiming to bring local governments together to devise ways to innovate such technologies “and to do it now,” according to Neidl.  

The coalition will be harnessing both private and public sector funding — recognizing that while each local entity might lack sufficient support alone, they can accomplish more by pooling their resources, he added.  

To read the full story, please click here

Venezuela oil talks won’t stop summer power shortage

The Biden administration is dipping its toe into the possibility of reopening oil trading with Venezuela — news of which drove a slight dip in sky-high oil prices. 

But don’t expect Venezuelan supplies to be arriving in the U.S. anytime soon — or for the country’s considerable natural gas reserves to offer any relief in what is looking to be a blazing summer. 

What Biden said: The Treasury Department cleared Chevron to begin talks with the Venezuelan government with the ultimate goal of reopening imports that were shut down by the Trump administration in 2020, The Washington Post reported. 

This is very preliminary: “Fundamentally, what they’re doing is just allowed to talk,” a U.S. official told CNN. 

Venezuelan officials are excited. “They’re very pro-American and ready to talk,” a Venezuelan government insider told the Post. “They see themselves making a lot more money if they can sell their oil in Corpus Christi [in Texas] instead of the other side of the world.” 

Oil markets breathed a sigh of relief: Brent international crude prices dipped 2 percent on Tuesday following the announcement, Reuters reported.  

Little solace for methane prices: Venezuela has the world’s 10th largest reserves of methane reserves — commonly called natural gas — according the U.S. Energy Information Agency. 

But sources familiar with the matter told Equilibrium that gas exports likely wouldn’t be included in any potential deal. 

What’s up with methane?

  • Unseasonably high temperatures across the U.S. are exacerbating existing supply disruptions triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine
  • Demand for natural gas was up 4.4 percent Tuesday, CNBC reported.  
  • They could rise by another 25 percent under pressure from summer air conditioning needs, according to CNBC

Starving squirrels: Methane traders and utilities “need to be like squirrels putting acorns away” in spring for summer demand, John Kilduff of Again Capital told CNBC. 

But heat waves are forcing utilities to use that gas now, he said. 

That means potential shortages in the face of even higher temperatures this summer. 

Consumers helpless before the heat: Usually when gas prices are high, utilities switch to coal, portfolio manager Rob Thummel of TortoiseEcofin told CNBC.  

But coal prices are outpacing even natural gas, according to CNBC. 

“The consumer is kind of at the mercy of Mother Nature at this point for the summer,” Thummel added. 

Solar panels may gather power at night 

It is now possible to generate solar power even when the sun doesn’t shine, according to a new study in the American Chemical Society’s Photonics journal. 

Glowing with energy: “We usually think of the emission of light as something that consumes power,” team leader Nicholas Ekins-Daukes, of University of New South Wales, said in a statement. 

But in the invisible infrared spectrum, which Ekins-Daukes described as “glowing with radiant energy,” the scientists explored the possibility of extracting hidden electrical power.  
How do you do that? Solar radiation heats the earth during the day, and that heat dissipates back into space at night in the form of invisible infrared radiation, the researchers explained. 

That’s the same spectrum — and form of escaping radiation — that night-vision goggles amplify to allow people to see in the dark. 

Now scientists at the University of New South Wales Sydney have managed to tap that heat for power. 

How much power did they get? A tiny amount — around 0.001 percent (that’s one ten-thousandth) as much as a normal photovoltaic solar panel. 

What’s that in real terms? It means that the equivalent of a 1 megawatt solar installation — enough to power 164 homes, according to the Solar Energy Industry Association — could just about power a couple of 60-watt light bulbs. 

But it’s a start: The experiment is a “proof of principle” that provides a foundation for researchers to build on — similar to the 18th century discoveries in primitive coal-powered steam engines that birthed the science of thermodynamics, Etkins-Daukes said.


After electric vehicle maker Tesla lost its spot Wednesday on the S&P ESG Index — an index that includes companies that meet environmental, social and governance standards — the company’s founder, Elon Musk, was quick to lash out on Twitter.

“Exxon is rated top ten best in world for environment, social & governance (ESG) by S&P 500, while Tesla didn’t make the list!” Musk tweeted.

“ESG is a scam. It has been weaponized by phony social justice warriors,” Musk wrote, adding that S&P “has lost their integrity.”

The Wall Street Journal said that an S&P spokesman wouldn’t comment on Musk specifically, noting that he instead referred to a detailed explanation about index changes in a blog post.

“Just as it has in years past, the changes of the 2022 rebalance reflect the delicate balancing act of providing for broad-based market exposure but with meaningful and measurable sustainability-focused enhancements,” the S&P post stated. 

Wildlife Wednesday

Bonobo bosses are largely female, Boston basketball magnate donates to manatees and perching birds help airplanes land. 

Females ‘rule the roost’ in some animal species: study 

  • Scientists have created a new framework to assess power distribution between sexes in animals and determined that in some animal species, like bonobos, females “rule the roost.” 

Boston Celtics owner donates $2M to save manatees  

  • The Fox Rock Foundation, led by philanthropists Karen and Rob Hale — the latter has been a co-owner of the Celtics since 2014 — is donating $1 million to both the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida and the Save the Manatee Club, as decades of human-induced pollution continue to destroy the seagrasses that manatees consume, local Florida newspaper TCPalm reported.

Bird wings help model aircraft landings 

  • The various ways birds use their wings to land on tree branches could help inform future aircraft design, according to a study in Physical Review Fluids. 

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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