Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — How to stay cool amid summer heat

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Scorching heat is sending millions of Americans rushing to crank up the air conditioning on the first day of summer. 

But record electricity demand risks overloading U.S. grids, which could force individuals to find other options to cool off when central AC isn’t available. 

Here are some practical ways to stay cool this summer: 
 
Stay loose and hydrated: Wear loose-fitting clothes and drink lots of water, even if you aren’t thirsty, advises the nonprofit Federal Alliance for Safe Homes.

Use the night: “Keep your windows open at night, so the cool air can come in,” Bobbie Bourne of the American Red Cross told the blog Survival Common Sense. 

Battery-powered fans can be used to create a cooling evening “wind tunnel” — blowing warm air out one window and pulling in cool air through another.

Preserve the cool: Upper floors and rooms with south-facing windows heat up faster than ones with shades or in basements, according to nonprofit Safe Electricity. 

That means closing blinds and drapes of rooms on the sunny side of the residence, and using towels or blankets to block doors, according to Popular Science. 

Keep your fridge and freezer closed: They’ll keep food safe for up to 36 hours if not opened, according to the Red Cross. 

For a list of what foods go bad fastest — mostly animal products — check out this list from FoodSafety.gov.  

Use water: A wet towel or bucket of water in front of a fan, or an open window in the evening, makes an impromptu swamp cooler, Popular Science noted.

Cool showers and baths — or a wet shirt or bandana tied over the head or wrists — can mimic the cooling effect of sweat, New York University cardiologist Adriana Quinones-Camacho told Survival Common Sense. 

Get out: Most cities now offer municipal cooling centers — which can include malls, movie theaters and libraries — to get power-compromised residents out of dangerous temperatures.


🌱 EQUILIBRIUM HITS 1 YEAR

Today we’re celebrating 1 year since this newsletter launched (see first issue here).

Over the past year we’ve explored what a sustainable world might look like, and what environmental quandarieseconomic developments and social advancements are hanging in the balance.

We’ve spoken to congressional leadersgovernors and forestry officials about a world ablaze and facing major drought, and we’ve talked to scientists scrambling for solutions to these crises. We’ve also looked at major societal transformations, such as the electric vehicle revolution.

Thank you for your loyal readership! We’d love to hear your feedback: Saul Elbein (selbein@thehill.com) and Sharon Udasin (sudasin@thehill.com).

And if you enjoy this newsletter, please consider forwarding it to a friend. Not on the list? Subscribe here.

Today we’ll also look at New Jersey’s biggest wildfire in more than a decade and the return of Uber’s carpool feature. Then we’ll investigate Europe’s coal-burning revival and plans from Colombia’s government to end new fossil fuel production.

NJ battles biggest blaze in 15 years

A wildfire scorching southern New Jersey’s Wharton Forest has now become the state’s largest since 2007, despite significant success in containing the blaze. 

  • The Mullica River Fire had reached 13,500 acres by Tuesday, with officials projecting that it could eventually reach 15,000 acres, Philadelphia-based 6ABC reported. 
  • Nonetheless, the New Jersey Forest Fire Service announced on Tuesday morning that the fire was about 85 percent contained and that crews were continuing to make “substantial progress,” according to 6ABC.
  • Although 18 structures had been threatened by the flames, no injuries were identified thus far, NBC10 Philadelphia reported.    

What caused the fire? Officials have stopped short of saying that someone intentionally ignited the blaze, but they also don’t think that its origins were natural.  

“We have essentially ruled out natural causes and so we’ll continue to investigate the fire,” Gregory McLaughlin, chief and state fire warden for the New Jersey Forest Fire Service, said at a Monday press conference, covered by 6ABC. 

McLaughlin said the previous day that he and his colleagues suspected that the fire was caused by people “passing through, whether on the river or hiking,” who had started a “makeshift” campfire, The Associated Press reported.  

Knock-on effects down the shore: While officials said they expected full containment to occur by Wednesday, the impacts of the wildfire could already be felt at the Jersey Shore. 

  • “I thought it was fog at first, but then I started to notice the smell and I knew it wasn’t fog,” Alicia Washington of Atlantic City told 6ABC.
  • Atlantic City is about 40 miles southeast of the fire’s center.  

Residents urged to be careful: Amit Borah, an interventional pulmonologist at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, told ABC6 said “it’s not a time to take any chances with the amount of smoke that we’ve all been seeing,” stressing that exposure to hot smoke can damage even healthy lungs.  

Wildfires abound: Thus far this year, 31,000 wildfires have ripped across 3.2 million acres in the U.S., which is more than double the 10-year average, Bloomberg reported, citing the National Interagency Fire Center.

Uber brings back shared rides

Uber is bringing back its carpool option, which brings users cheaper rides if they agree to share their car with another rider on their route. 

  •  The company says the new UberX Share feature will make its service more sustainable by cutting emissions per passenger while adding no more than eight additional minutes per trip. 
  • Uber’s announcement follows one last month by chief rival Lyft that it was offering shared rides in Denver, Las Vegas, Atlanta, San Jose, Philadelphia and Miami — with more cities to be announced throughout 2022. 

Company claims: Uber drivers provided carpool-style rides to 37 million riders in 2018 — before the coronavirus pandemic led Uber to end POOL, its previous carpool option, Uber Head of Sustainability Adam Gromis wrote. 

Climate benefit: Those POOL rides cut about 82,000 metric tons of greenhouse gasses in one year, according to Gromis.

Small but definite benefit: An individual shared ride can cut journey emissions by about 5 percent, according to a study from University of California, Berkeley. 

And daily carpooling can cut personal carbon emissions by 1 ton per year, per a state of California fact sheet. 

Far more to go: Transportation releases the largest share of emissions in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

EU countries weigh return to coal

Reduced supplies of Russian gas have prompted some European governments to weigh a return to coal — one of the most polluting sources of electric power, CNBC reported.  

Despite fears that such a move could delay the continent’s transition to renewables, policymakers insist that coal will be “a necessary stopgap” to prevent a winter energy supply shortage, according to CNBC. 

  • If gas flows stay at current levels, Europe could struggle to reach 70 percent of storage capacity by November, Kateryna Filippenko, an analyst for global gas research at Wood Mackenzie, told The Wall Street Journal. 
  • This would fall significantly short of the EU’s goal of stockpiling 80 percent of its winter supply by November, the Journal reported.   

U.S. exports cut short: Exacerbating these circumstances was an early June fire at a Texas liquefied natural gas supplier, which caused the site to restrict export supplies until later this year, according to the Journal. 

The Freeport LNG-owned facility — one of the U.S.’s largest export terminals — will be offline until “late 2022,” the company reported. 

Which countries might turn back to coal? Germany, Italy, Austria and the Netherlands have all said that coal-fired plants might be used to compensate for Russian gas supply losses, CNBC reported.  

The Dutch government said on Monday that it would eliminate coal production caps and activate the first phase of an energy crisis plan, while Denmark made a similar move, according to Reuters.  

A painful necessity: Meanwhile, Italian oil company Eni received word on Monday that Russia’s Gazprom would only be providing part of its gas requests, Reuters reported.

Germany also said that it might restart coal plants it had planned to phase out, with Economy Minister Robert Habeck — of the Green party — describing the situation as “painful” but “a sheer necessity,” according to Reuters.

How pro-green leaders hope to transform Colombia

Newly elected Colombian President Gustavo Petro is pushing his country to ban production of new fossil fuels, from coal to fracked oil and methane.

That is all part of what the new leader has described as an effort to remake the Latin American country’s economy to face climate change and the energy transition. 

Why it matters: These goals could help position the nation — and Latin America generally — as a renewable energy leader, expanding the locus of climate action further beyond the U.S., China and Europe.

Big promises: Petro and Marquez’s campaign platform pledged to “undertake a gradual de-escalation of economic dependence on oil and coal.”  

If Petro’s administration sticks to its promises, Colombia will be the largest fossil fuel producer to have turned away from new coal and petroleum development, according to U.K.-based Climate Home News.

  • Colombia represents about 1 percent of global fossil fuel production, Climate Home News reported. 
  • “These are not baby steps but huge steps towards the transition and reducing fossil fuels,” Colombian environmentalist Martin Ramirez told Climate Home News. 

Sea change: Petro and Marquez, the nation’s first-ever left-leaning administration, have proposed further broad changes to the economy, according to the Financial Times. 

  • The new government wants to replace the country’s current dependence on mining and fossil fuels with a new focus on green manufacturing and agriculture, the Times reported. 
  • That includes a focus on systems that integrate farms and forests as well as reforestation in general, according to the candidates’ platform. 

Water focus: They have also pushed for enhanced protection of the country’s water, which Petro pledged on the campaign trail to make “the organizational axis of the territory,” according to CNN. 

“We’ll give to the oceans, reefs, mangroves, glaciers, moors, forests, rivers and swamps the importance they deserve,” he added. 

Environmental equality: Key to Petro’s appeal to Colombia’s young climate-conscious voters was Marquez, an environmental activist and 2018 winner of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, Climate Home News reported. 

In speeches this week, Marquez focused on environmental justice and gender equality, pledging to create a creating a Ministry of Equality, Colombian news site InfoBae reported.

Transport Tuesday

Ford and GM go after Tesla — and each other. Also, a gas tax decisions by Friday and the return of onshore manufacturing.

Ford-GM Electric vehicle rivalry escalating 

  • A historically fierce rivalry between Ford and General Motors is escalating to new proportions in the electric vehicle (EV) era, The Wall Street Journal reported. With each under pressure to contend with Tesla, the companies are “sniping at each other’s electric trucks and broader EV strategies,” while placing most of their capital expenditures on EVs, according to the Journal. 

Gas tax holiday decision by week’s end 

Companies solve supply chain distress by shortening it 

  • Companies beset by rising supply chain costs — from shipping to storage —are experimenting with shortening their transport routes by bringing manufacturing closer to — or back within — the U.S. to better meet the needs of a fluctuating market, according to a report published on Tuesday by the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals.

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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