Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Climate change may be coming for Sriracha sauce

Getty Images

Spice lovers are bracing for a shortage of Sriracha sauce that experts say is likely due in part to the effects of climate change on chili peppers.

The green-capped, bright red product, whose popularity NPR described as “something of a cult following,” is beginning to disappear from supermarket shelves.  

The company that produces Sriracha, Huy Fong Foods, wrote in an April email that it would stop making the sauce for the coming months due to “severe weather conditions affecting the quality of chili peppers.”

The Hill reported that the shortage is expected to extend throughout the summer and into the fall.

Guillermo Murray Tortarolo, a climate scientist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, attributes the shortage to a failed harvest of chili peppers in northern Mexico and says climate change is very likely a factor, according to NPR.

The peppers grow during the first third of the year and need constant irrigation, but the region is experiencing its second year of drought and has been “pushed over the limit by two consecutive La Niña events,” Tortarolo told NPR.

Grocery stores in some regions are running low on stock of the sauce, while many restaurant owners are grappling with rising prices, according to the outlet.

“Usually when I bought one case, it was roughly around $30 to $32,” Michael Csau, co-owner of the restaurant Pho Viet in Washington D.C., told NPR. “Now it’s up to $50, almost double the price. If it keeps going up, we cannot afford it.” 

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability.

Today we’ll look at the extreme weather events hitting the globe before summer. Then we’ll take a final stop in Iceland for an up-close look at carbon removal technologies.

Send us tips and feedback: Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. If you like this newsletter, please consider sharing it with a friend. Not on the list? Subscribe here.

Weather disasters abound across US

With summer officially still days away, various pockets of the country have already suffered from an onslaught of climate-induced weather disasters. 

  • Massive flooding has destroyed bridges in Montana and Wyoming while forcing the evacuation of more than 10,000 tourists from Yellowstone National Park, according to The Associated Press.
  • In the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley regions, half a million households lost power amid a fierce thunderstorm this week, while record-setting temperatures killed at least 2,000 cattle in Kansas, The Washington Post reported.

Danger season: “Summer has become the danger season where you see these kinds of events happening earlier, more frequently, and co-occurring,” Rachel Licker, of the Union of Concerned Scientists research and advocacy group, told the Post.  

Midwest has been taking the heat: Low-pressure systems across northern New England and the Pacific Northwest helped trap what is known as a high-pressure “heat dome” over the central U.S., according to Bloomberg.  

Such a dome “amplifies heat like a magnifying glass over the region,” Bloomberg reported, noting that both Chicago and Denver set new highs earlier this week.  

Things won’t be improving: Extreme heat conditions are expected to grow more intense next week, across the South, Southeast and Mid-Atlantic, a second piece from the Post warned.  

Temperatures in many U.S. cities could set records, as parts of Georgia and the Carolinas could hit triple digits, according to the Post.

It’s no better overseas: France warned its citizens of the health risks associated with ongoing extreme heat, while firefighters were battling raging blazes in Spain’s Catalonia region, according to Reuters.  

Great Britain was sizzling on the hottest day of the year thus far — which The Telegraph dubbed “Fryday,” as sunseekers flocked to the country’s coasts. 

Catch up fast: The Hill’s Evening Report – recapping the most important news of the day and looking ahead to tomorrow. Click here to sign up

Biogas supply chains leaking methane: study

Supplies of biogas and biomethane — often touted as greener alternatives to traditional energy sources — may be leaking twice as much methane as previously thought, a new study has found.  

  • Refresher: Biogas and biomethane are by-products from breaking down organic matter like food, animal waste, crops, grass and sewage sludge.
  • Their origins makes these energy sources “renewable alternatives to natural gas, coal and and oil,” according to the authors, who published their findings in the journal One Earth on Friday. 

But problems abound: Stressing that there are “potential pitfalls in energy supply chains for these climate-friendlier gases,” the authors said these gases release up to twice as much methane as the International Energy Agency’s highest estimates. 

How so? This is because the agency’s last review looked at an incomplete picture — accounting only for inefficiencies in the gas combustion process, rather than within the broader supply chain, the authors explained. 

About 62 percent of the leaks were concentrated in what the authors described as “super-emitter” components — a limited number of facilities and pieces of equipment in that chain.

  • “Biomethane and biogas are great candidates for renewable and clean energy sources, but they can also emit methane,” lead author Semra Bakkaloglu, of the Imperial College of London, said in a statement.  
  • “For them to really help mitigate the warming effects of energy use, we must act urgently to reduce their emissions.”    

More action necessary: The authors called for increased efforts to reduce methane leakage, including more focus on detection, measurement and repair techniques, as well as relevant government regulations.

“We want to encourage the continued use of biogas and biomethane as a renewable resource by taking the necessary actions to tackle methane emissions,” Bakkaloglu said. 

Turning carbon dioxide into stone  

Scientists are working to develop technology to withdraw CO2 from the atmosphere, which could help play a key role in curbing the worst impacts of climate change.

The process is called “direct air capture,” with carbon dioxide removed from the air and stored permanently underground, or used for other purposes. 

  • This week, The Hill visited the Iceland-based pilot project of a partnership that aims to turn that carbon dioxide to stone stored underground.
  • The publicly owned Hellisheiði Power Station in southwest Iceland and private companies Carbfix and Climeworks are collaborating on the project.

Big money: Large companies have pushed to invest in these types of carbon removal technologies.

  • The Carbfix and Climeworks partnership received pledges of up to $925 million in April from a coalition of tech companies like Apple, Stripe and Alphabet.
  • Carbfix also won two separate prizes for its work on carbon removal from Elon Musk’s foundation.

How it works: Climeworks, which is based in Switzerland, uses geothermal energy from the plant to run its direct air capture machine.

  • The machine resembles a shipping container studded with black fans that suck in air from the atmosphere.
  • Inside the direct air capture machine, filters behind the fans scrub out trace amounts of carbon dioxide — which today makes up about 0.042 percent of air’s composition, per the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

After the CO2 is captured: To truly remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it needs to be stored in a permanent form, not simply captured. That’s where Icelandic company CarbFix comes in.

  • The company runs a stream of geothermally heated water over the filters to dissolve the captured carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide.
  • This process creates a kind of hot, rotten-egg flavored seltzer that workers then inject underground into the porous volcanic basalt, company geologist Sandra Snæbjörnsdóttir told Equilibrium.
  • Once there, the acidic liquid slowly dissolves the rock, then resolidifies as a matrix of solid limestone, she added.

CAPTURE VS. REMOVAL

Climeworks CEO Christoph Beuttler drew a sharp distinction between removing carbon for permanent storage and capturing the gas for other purposes.

  • Some end goals, which the company facilitates at other sites around the world, include reuse in food, fuels and fizzy drinks, according to Beuttler.
  • But in Iceland, the purpose is removal. Carbfix began commercial operations as a means of capturing and storing the small amounts of carbon dioxide released from the Hellisheiði geothermal plant, Snæbjörnsdóttir said. 

Climeworks tour guide Brintis Nielsen emphasized to Equilibrium that carbon removal plans are no excuse to pollute more. 

  • “First we have to reduce emissions — that’s number one, two, three, four and five,” she said.
  • And cutting current emissions does nothing to remove the “historic CO2” released by nearly 150 years of fossil fuel-burning industries and now warming the planet, Beuttler explained.

Christoph Gebald, the company’s founder and director, addressed similar themes while discussing carbon removal at The Hill’s Sustainability Imperative event in April.

Competitive advantage: Many other companies around the world are developing carbon removal and direct air capture technologies, like California-based Blue Planet, Canada-based Carbon Engineering and New York-based Global Thermostat. 

  • While none, including the partnership in Iceland, have yet to reach commercial viability, Beuttler said he believes that his company has a competitive advantage — as well as a bevy of high-profile customers to help it grow.
  • “Big corporations have basically realized that their business model does not continue in the far future without a stable climate,” he added.  

Follow-up Friday

Taking another look at issues from the week. 

An economic disaster follows Yellowstone floods

  • We covered the near-record floods that forced the closure of Yellowstone National Park’s entrances. Now tourist towns north of Yellowstone are facing an economic disaster in the aftermath of the meteorological one: the closing of the park’s northern entrance has left towns like Gardiner, Mont. without the much-needed influx of summer hikers, hunters and fishermen, The New York Times reported. 

Paid time off to garden in Sri Lanka 

Maine considers stricter standards for ‘forever chemicals’ 

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

VIEW THE FULL EDITION HERE

Tags carbon dioxide carbon emmissions carbon removal Climate change decarbonizing extreme weather methane emissions
See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more

Video

See all Video