Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Global fish trade leaves poorest on the hook

International fishing fleets from rich countries are pulling nutrients from the mouths of some of the world’s poorest people. 

China, the U.S.’s biggest seafood supplier, is one of the worst culprits, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. 

Other wealthy countries like France, Japan and South Korea are also major beneficiaries of poorer countries’ fish stocks, the researchers found. 

In addition to depleting fish supplies, these fleets — operating in waters of poorer nations like Guyana, Namibia, the Maldives and New Guinea — are pulling protein and “vital micronutrients” away from those who most need them, Christina Hicks of Lancaster University said in a statement. 

Those micronutrients include many compounds crucial to brain and body development, from omega-3 fatty acids to zinc and selenium. 

“If fisheries are to achieve their potential to reduce global malnutrition — and the terrible health consequences associated with it — then nutrition security needs to be considered more centrally,” Hicks 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 explore the environmental toll that Russia’s invasion has taken on Ukraine. Then we’ll head across the world to Australia, where climate claimed victory in a national election. Finally, we’ll visit Georgia, where a divide over an enormous electric vehicle push is fueling the contest for the Republican governor’s slot.

War ravages Ukraine’s environment

While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has taken a devastating toll on human lives and communities, the war has also ravaged the country’s environment and natural resources. 

The region of Irpin, about an hour northwest of Kyiv, is home to “some of the worst atrocities committed by Russia in this war,” with at least 1,200 civilian bodies discovered since Russian troops withdrew from the area, according CNN.  

Scorched earth: But the destruction to the region’s landscape is also “brutal and omnipresent,” featuring “scorched earth, forest floors ravaged by missiles and trees broken down and uprooted, while abandoned military equipment litters the ground,” CNN reported.  

“We have a beautiful forest here, but this year there won’t be any walks, there won’t be any mushroom picking, there won’t be berries,” Irpin resident Anzhelika Kolomiec told CNN. “We are not allowed to go in because of mines and unexploded missiles.” 

More damage litters the country: Satellite images reveal that huge portions of eastern and southern Ukraine are now engulfed in wildfires — triggered by explosions and made worse due to the inability of emergency services to get to them, CNN reported.  

Smoke is polluting the country’s air, while heavy metals are contaminating its fertile soil and fuel is flowing into groundwaters and ecosystems, according to CNN.  

Breaking it down: The Center for Environmental Initiatives in Kyiv has assembled an interactive map of categorized incidents across Ukraine — including nuclear and chemical pollution events, livestock waste dangers and both land and marine degradation, CNN reported.  

Bringing the environment to court: Ukraine intends to seek compensation for the environmental damage caused by Russia in international courts, Reuters reported last week.  

Ruslan Strilets, Ukraine’s minister of environmental protection and natural resources, told reporters that the invasion had destroyed ecosystems, contaminated land and deprived wildlife of natural habitats, according to Reuters. 

“Over the past 20 years, this is the first military conflict in the world that has caused such large-scale environmental damage,” Strilets added.  

Huge financial losses: Strilets said that Ukraine has endured more than $85 million in financial losses in the region around the defunct Chernobyl atomic power station — where fires have ravaged nearly 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres) of land, Reuters reported.  

In total, Ukraine has recorded 1,500 cases of environmental degradation or land contamination, according to Reuters.  

An environmental war: In an analysis that delved into how “Vladimir Putin weaponized the environment in Ukraine,” the U.K.-based New Statesman magazine mused about the disappearance of a rare type of flower called the spring meadow saffron. 

“It might seem absurd to talk about flowers when men, women and children are being murdered and raped,” the analysis stated.   

“But Russia is also waging an environmental war, and this casual destruction of a protected species is only one symptom,” the author added.

Climate wins in Australian election

The battle to combat climate change landed a decisive victory in Australia this weekend, following the election of Labor leader Anthony Albanese as prime minister. 

Ending climate wars: In the Western nation — and U.S. ally — that has earned international notoriety “as a global climate laggard,” Albanese has promised to transform climate change into an impetus for economic growth, The New York Times reported.  

“Together we can end the climate wars,” Albanese told supporters. “Together we can take advantage of the opportunity for Australia to be a renewable energy superpower.” 

Seeking consensus on climate change: Albanese is set to meet with President Biden at the Quad summit in Tokyo on Tuesday, where he plans to seek a new consensus on climate change, according to Western Australia news site WAtoday.  

The prime minister spoke with Biden on Sunday about how Australia and the U.S. can cooperate on clean energy, including a possible future United Nations climate summit in Australia and the Pacific region, WAtoday reported.  

An end to green despair?: Australian environmental activists, scientists and voters have “spent years in despair, lamenting the fossil fuel industry’s hold on conservatives who have run Australia for most of the past three decades,” according to the Times.  

The country has thus far only proposed minimal greenhouse gas emissions reductions goals, while abiding by “a deny-and-delay approach,” the Times noted.  

Decades of inaction have led Australia to become “one of the world’s highest per capita emitters” of greenhouse gases, according to Bloomberg.  

Ousted leader Scott Morrison — who once brought a lump of coal to parliament — has long been criticized for his refusal to prioritize the climate, only agreeing last year to a net-zero target for 2050.

Weaning off fossil fuels: Despite the potentially transformative election outcome, Australia, like the U.S., will face difficulties as it tries to reverse decades’ worth of petroleum-based energy practices, according to the Times.  

Australian government entities provided about 11.6 billion Australian dollars
($8.2 billion USD) worth of subsidies to fossil fuel industries last year, while committing an additional 55.3 billion Australian dollars ($39 billion USD) to other related subsidies, the Times reported. 

Stance on coal remains unclear: While Albanese has pledged to adopt more ambitious emissions targets, he has thus far refused calls to phase out coal or to stop the opening of new coal mines, the BBC reported.  

“Australian businesses know that good action on climate change is good for jobs and good for our economy, and I want to join the global effort,” Albanese told the BBC.

EV plans divide Georgia GOP governor hopefuls

An electric vehicle (EV) plant that ranks as the largest economic development program in Georgia’s history has divided the state’s Republican party on the eve of a pivotal primary. 

The winner of Tuesday’s race for the GOP’s gubernatorial nominee could determine whether two enormous EV plants will soon begin producing hundreds of thousands of vehicles per year in the southeastern state. 

Picking up controversy: California-based EV startup Rivian wants to spend
$5 billion
 to build nearly half a million electric pickups per year in a new facility outside Atlanta, NBC reported. 

That would employ 7,500 workers in a deal negotiated by Gov. Brian Kemp, according to the company. 

Kemp’s challenger isn’t interested: The incumbent’s primary challenger, David Perdue, recently told local activists that Rivian is “a woke California company whose mission is to turn the world green,” according to the Morgan County Citizen. 

Big money: Perdue also attacked the unprecedented $1.5 billion in incentives that Georgia offered the company, according to the Citizen. 

Environmental qualms: Residents are also concerned about the toll the massive plant will take on local wetlands, water supplies and wildlife, The Associated Press reported in April. 

Two big plans, two big plants: Rivian’s December announcement was just the first of two new EV investments that outside companies have made in Georgia in the past six months, CNN reported. 

Kia and Hyundai announced a joint plan last Friday to invest $5.5 billion in a new plant in the state’s coastal East — the flagship of both companies’ EV and battery production programs — where they aim to produce 300,000 vehicles per year by 2025, according to CNN. 

Hot words in the low country: Coming on the eve of the primary, Hyundai’s announcement gave Kemp an extra boost, the AP reported. 

In a campaign stop in Savannah, Ga., near the future Hyundai plant, the incumbent fired back at Perdue, whom he accused of sending U.S. jobs overseas during his time as an executive for textile companies, according to the AP. 

A future harvest: Kemp stressed on Friday that manufacturing facilities like those proposed by Hyundai and Rivian could revitalize the state, the AP reported. 

“You’ve seen downtowns that used to be ghost towns, they’re vibrant communities now,” he said. “These are investments that we’ll be reaping the benefits of 20 to 30 years down the road.”

HURRICANE SEASON STARTS EARLY

In an early omen of the hurricane season to come, a spinning blob of thunderstorms is dumping rain across the Florida panhandle on Monday. 

Birth from a blob: It’s the first tropical disturbance of the 2023 hurricane season, and it comes a week before that season usually starts, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. 

While unlikely to form a hurricane, such disturbances are the raw materials from which hurricanes form, according to the Sentinel. 

Busy season: The Atlantic is facing its seventh-straight above-average hurricane year, a team at Colorado State University predicted in April. 

The researchers predicted up to 19 named storms by the end of November.

Monday Miscellanies

Avian democracy, family camps threatened by fires and the potential for life in binary star systems. 

Jackdaw-mocracy governs these flocks 

  • Large flocks of jackdaws — a small relative of crows and ravens — use a form of democratic consensus to decide when to take off en masse, according to study in Current Biology. 

Climate change threatening Berkeley family camps 

Life may lurk on dual-star systems: study 

  • Scientists on the hunt for extraterrestrial life are turning to a new target: Binary star systems, in which two suns orbit each other, a new study in Nature has found.

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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