Equilibrium & Sustainability

Targeting road safety could save more than 500K lives per year, study finds

Reducing speed limits and implementing road safety interventions could save nearly 540,000 lives worldwide each year, a new study has found.

The full enforcement of measures that target speed, drunk driving, helmet wearing and seatbelt use could save about 43,000 lives in the U.S. alone, according to the study, published by the Lancet in a series of road safety reports on Wednesday.

More than 22,000 U.S. lives could be saved by restricting speed and more than 5,100 through interventions on drunk driving, while another 14,000 and 2,400 lives could be preserved by improving the use of seatbelts and helmets, the study determined.

“People everywhere continue to be at great risk of injury and death unless current road traffic strategies are changed to put protections in place,” co-author Adnan Hyder, of the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, said in a statement.

An estimated 1.35 million people lose their lives each year and more than 50 million individuals are injured or disabled following road traffic incidents, the authors noted.

Focusing on strategies to control hemorrhage and early resuscitation is most likely to save lives, followed by interventional radiology to control bleeding, the study found.

“Although strengthening trauma systems is the ultimate goal, clinical and simple health system interventions are a practical starting point to save lives sooner,” co-author Junaid Razzak, of Weill Cornell Medical Center, said in a statement.

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. Send us tips and feedback: Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Not on the list? Subscribe here to get this newsletter in your inbox daily!

Today we’ll explore how activists in Flint, Mich., are pressing forward despite a disappointing ruling on the city’s 2014 water crisis, followed by a big step forward in one campaign to pull heat-trapping gases out of the atmosphere.

Despite setback, Flint water activists press on

After the Michigan Supreme Court dismissed charges against several state officials over the 2014 Flint Water Crisis, residents remain adamant in their quest for justice.  

“As a pastor, as a community servant, I am confident that eventually the facts will come out and those people who need to be held accountable will be held accountable,” Alfred Harris Sr. of Saints of God Church in Flint told NBC affiliate WEYI.

What was the Flint water crisis? The inadvertent contamination of the city’s water supply in April 2014 caused widespread anger — and eventual indictments. 

  • The contamination occurred after Flint’s drinking water source changed from Detroit’s water network to the adjacent Flint River.
  • That resource was not properly treated, and corrosive river water damaged the city’s pipes, causing the discharge of lead into Flint’s drinking system. 
  • A year and a half later, Flint returned to Detroit’s water system.   

Complicated court case: Nine officials, including former Gov. Rick Snyder (R), faced criminal charges in connection with the crisis through a one-man grand jury, announced by Michigan’s solicitor general in January 2021.

Why were the charges dismissed? Michigan’s Supreme Court decided on Tuesday that the charges were improper because the grand jury consisted of a single judge, our colleague Zack Budryk reported for The Hill.

  • State laws “do not authorize that one-man grand jury to issue an indictment initiating a criminal prosecution,” the court wrote in a 6-0 decision. 
  • Snyder is due to testify separately in a lawsuit against two firms that advised the city of Flint during the crisis, Budryk reported. 

The case may not be over: “The Citizens of Flint should know that these cases are not over. Public commentary to the contrary is presumptive and rash,” Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud said in a statement, adding she plans to still pursue the case.

Local politicians weigh in: While expressing disappointment with the ruling, Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley (D) stressed that there are still a few defendants awaiting trial on the civil side, in an interview with local station ABC 9. 

“This is another devastating blow, but we will continue to press forward — press forward advocating strongly for the residents of this community, to be able to get some level of resolve,” Neeley said.

Carbon removal’s major scale-up

Construction began Wednesday on what could become the world’s largest facility for pulling planet-warming gases out of the atmosphere, the companies responsible for the site announced this week.

  • Carbon removal partners Carbfix and Climeworks are building a new “Mammoth” plant in Iceland that they say would allow them to trap 36,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year. 
  • The companies have raised hundreds of millions of dollars to pull the gas from the atmosphere and store it in rock underground.

Big step amid giant plans: The pair described Mammoth as a key step toward their goal: A fleet of facilities that could filter a gigaton of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere per year by 2050.

  • While still a trivial amount of annual greenhouse gas pollution, that would represent a tenfold increase over the companies’ existing capacity, they said. 
  • They were able to expand thanks to $650 million in investment raised in May, according to Climeworks. 

We covered their Orca site — which uses geothermal energy to pull carbon dioxide out of the air and turn it to stone — earlier this month. 

How the tech works: Carbfix and Climework’s model relies on plentiful supplies of low carbon energy and underground rock to turn carbon dioxide into rock.

  • At the pilot facility by the Hellisheiði geothermal power plant near Reykjavik, Iceland, Climeworks pulls air through batteries of fans — running on clean energy — that trap carbon dioxide in a filter. 
  • The trapped greenhouse gasses are then dissolved in hot water and sent to Carbfix, which injects it into subterranean deposits of porous volcanic rock where it gradually turns to stone.  

But these factors — while plentiful in Iceland — are rarer elsewhere in the world.


While Mammoth’s carbon-trapping capabilities would be much greater than those of the past plant, the new site would only be able to remove a tiny fraction of the world’s annual carbon dioxide emissions. 

Fossil fuel burning and other polluting activities released the equivalent of about
36 gigatons in 2021
, according to data from the International Energy Agency. 

  • That number would represent a nearly 28,000-fold increase over the capacity of the new plant. 
  • It’s also 36 times the annual capacity of that 1 gigaton fleet of carbon moving machines that the partnership proposes to have ready by 2050. 

Mammoth job: If fossil fuel burning continues until 2050 at last year’s rates — a possibility most scientists consider disastrous — then that 1 gigaton fleet will be up against 1,000 gigatons of atmospheric carbon dioxide in need of removal. 

Still necessary: But “negative emissions” — pulling greenhouse gases from the atmosphere — will be necessary to remove the climate-disrupting legacy of 20th- and 21st-century emissions, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change.

Nations meet in Lisbon to stop ocean exploitation

Delegates from more than 20 nations are gathering in Lisbon this week to formulate a declaration that will focus on restoring ocean health and defending it from exploitation, The Washington Post reported.  

  • “Sadly, we have taken the ocean for granted, and today we face what I would call an “Ocean Emergency,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres told participants at the U.N. Ocean Conference opening session earlier this week.
  • Guterres called upon nations to “turn the tide,” citing issues of global heating, sea-level rise, ocean acidity and the inundation of low-lying islands.  

Who is attending the talks? Several U.S. officials are at the meeting in Lisbon, including climate envoy John Kerry, according to the Post.

Meanwhile, the U.S., Britain and Canada are planning to launch an alliance that will improve oversight of fisheries and “hold bad actors accountable,” the Post reported, citing a White House fact sheet.  

Hurdles: Referring to previous failures to agree on a blueprint for protecting the open seas from exploitation, Guterres blamed the “egoism” of certain nations that have prevented progress, according to Reuters.  

The day before the summit began, the secretary-general also apologized to the Ocean Conference Youth Forum on behalf of his generation for being “slow or sometimes unwilling to recognize that things were getting worse and worse.” 

Moving forward, the U.N.’s special envoy of the ocean, Peter Thomson, told Reuters he was confident that an agreement would be reached this year, despite ongoing challenges such as deep-sea mining. 

“I’m very sure we are going to get there,” Thomson said.

Business pledges underscore deforestation issue

Nestle and Unilever are on track to cut deforestation out of their supply chains by the end of 2025, company executives wrote in a statement published on Wednesday. 

What’d they say? The companies announced that ending deforestation — a major problem in the production of soya, palm oil, cocoa and other tropical commodities both firms use — is essential if they’re going to meet their carbon reduction goals. 

  • “The food sector makes up about 37 percent of global emissions, and when you look at deforestation it really has kind of an outside climate impact,” Niamh McCarthy of nonprofit Climate Advisers told Equilibrium.
  • Candy-making Nestle competitor Mars has estimated that 42 percent of its emissions come from “land use change,” which is broadly similar to deforestation.

Getting out ahead: Nestle and Unilever took this step as banks — particularly in Europe — are beginning to worry about funding deforestation through their investments, McCarthy noted. 

“Unless we end deforestation, achieving net zero is impossible,” the CEOs wrote.

Waste Wednesday

Denver’s trash-pricing plan aims to get households composting and recycling, electric garbage pickup in Des Moines and federal funding for products made from crop waste.

In Denver, trash costs but recycling is free 

  • Denver will begin charging for trash pickup in 2023 while leaving recycling and composting collection free, CBS News reported. “The more you recycle or compost, the less you throw away, the less your fee is going to be, so it really incentives the behaviors that we want,” a spokesperson for the Denver Department of Transportation and Infrastructure told CBS. 

Electric garbage truck comes to Des Moines 

  •  The City of Des Moines, Iowa, will be buying a $700,000 electric-powered garbage truck — at about 2.8 times the price of a standard model, local CBS affiliate KCCI News reported. The city’s 35 existing garbage trucks use almost half of its diesel fuel supply, even though they make up only 5 percent of the municipal fleet, according to KCCI. 

Federal money to develop new products from farm waste 

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture is offering $10 million in grants to farmers looking to develop new “bioproducts” from agricultural and farm waste, Secretary Tom Vilsack announced. The program, funded through the bipartisan infrastructure law, directs USDA to collaborate on such studies with research universities, the agency said.

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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