Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Malawian, Zambian kids want school calendar shift

An Ugandan mother with her baby on back, has taken her son from school and is going home.

Children in Malawi and Zambia are demanding their governments shift their school calendars, arguing the changing climate is hampering their ability to concentrate in frigid winter classrooms. 

These students are asking that their countries shut down school during the winter months of June and July, in place of August and September, as temperatures have plunged, according to the U.K.-based nonprofit Save the Children. 

Because many classrooms lack heating, the children say they would prefer the holiday break happen earlier, allowing them to stay warm at home, a news release from the nonprofit said. 

Average temperatures in June and July range from 9 to 23 degrees Celsius (48 to
73 degrees Fahrenheit), according to Save the Children.  

While these temperatures might not be considered cold elsewhere, buildings in Zambia and Malawi are not built with sufficient heating or insulation, the organization said.  

“Climate change is affecting me a lot because I’m skipping classes and my right to education is being disturbed because I’m not enjoying my education as I used to,” Faith, a 13-year-old Malawian child rights campaigner told Save the Children.  

“It’s a cold time, of course, but the cold is beyond because it reaches the extent where children don’t go to school,” she 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 look at why the new semiconductor bill could hurt sustainability goals as well as help them, followed by why drought ranks chief among Californians’ environmental concerns. Then we’ll explore a plan to “rewild” a swath of the West and see why nonprofit religious groups are praising the Inflation Reduction Act’s passage.

Chips bill will spur green tech, threaten environment

President Biden signed into law on Tuesday a massive package aimed at stimulating scientific research and manufacturing, our colleagues Morgan Chalfant and Alex Gangitano reported for The Hill. 

  • The bill, called the CHIPS and Science Act, contains $80 billion to fund five years of varied research projects overseen by the National Science Foundation. 
  • It also includes more than $50 billion in incentives to encourage domestic production of semiconductors, or computer chips.

Short- and long-term tradeoffs: Over the long term, the package is likely to offer strong support for both clean energy and electric vehicles. 

But in the immediate term, it will likely increase carbon emissions and water shortages. 

Epochal investment: In his remarks Biden framed the bill as “a once in a generation investment in America itself” that would lead a new cadre of Americans to “answer that question: what’s next?” 

The passage of the bill corresponds with a similar European Union proposal that would direct about $43 billion to its own chips stimulus program. 

Addressing a global disparity: Only about 10 percent of semiconductors used in the U.S. are made here, The New York Times reported.  

  • Seventy-five percent of U.S. semiconductors come from East Asia — and
    90 percent of the most advanced ones from Taiwan.  
  • This means that a Chinese attack on the island could currently cripple American industry, experts told the Times. 

Money is already flowing: A White House fact sheet touted a wash of new investment this week “spurred by the passage” of the bill:

  • Manufacturer Micron announced a $40 billion investment in new memory chip facilities. 
  • Qualcomm and GlobalFoundries are spending $4.2 billion in upgrades to a New York semiconductor factory. 

The CHIPS Act would cut the price of a $10 billion semiconductor factory by about
$3 billion
, representatives from Intel told tech news site CNET.

PLUSES AND MINUSES

The largest part of the package is the $80 billion funding research initiatives from advanced energy to quantum computing — and streamlines the ability of scientists to turn their discoveries into businesses. 

Long term benefit: But the most immediate impact would be the boost to semiconductor fabrication — which is important to the rollout of clean energy, E&E News reported.

  • Chips are a central component of solar panels. 
  • Some EVs require up to 2,000 chips.    

Near-term danger: But while the chips may eventually end up in Chevy Bolts and American Eagle windmills, they still take an enormous amount of water and energy to make, Bloomberg reported.

  • The booming semiconductor sector is also producing a growing amount of waste, from toxic chemicals to greenhouse gasses. 
  • While uptake of renewable energy from the sector is growing, the increasing complexity of chips is driving carbon emissions up faster. 

With the industry expected to double in the next decade, environmental protections need to speed up faster, Bloomberg reported. 

But that’s not happening yet. “Countries are really not thinking about this,” European analyst Pauline Weil told Bloomberg. “It’s offering on a plate billions of subsidies with very little strings attached.”

Californians see drought as top priority: survey

Californians named drought and water supply issues as their chief environmental concern for the third year in a row, according to a new statewide survey. 

A ‘big problem’ for Californians: Thirty percent of respondents ranked water as the most pressing issue in the poll, released by the Public Policy Institute of California. 

  • Water topped wildfires and climate change, which garnered 13 percent and
    11 percent, respectively.
     
  • About 68 percent of respondents, regardless of political affiliation or region, said they consider the state’s water supply to be a “big problem.”   

Demanding action: “Strong majorities want state and local governments to do more to address drought and climate resilience, and they support ambitious climate action from the state,” the survey’s authors wrote in a blog post accompanying the report. 

Statewide reach: Public Policy Institute researchers said they surveyed 1,648 adult residents from July 8 to July 15 in both English and Spanish through a third-party market research firm.  

  • They presented results for five geographic regions, which represent about
    90 percent of the state population. 
  • Respondents spanned a wide range of demographic and socioeconomic groups, and just over half were men.  
  • About 47 percent self-identified as registered Democrats, 24 percent as registered Republicans, and 29 percent as independents or another party or declined to state. 

Mixed feelings: Asked how they’d evaluate Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) handling of environmental issues, 59 percent of respondents said they approve, while 39 percent disapproved and 2 percent said they didn’t know. 

Yet about 68 percent of respondents said that state and local governments are not doing enough to respond to the statewide drought. 

Current efforts may be insufficient: Newsom asked Californians to voluntarily curb water use by 15 percent last year and then enacted emergency regulations this spring. But the survey’s authors stressed that these efforts may be insufficient. 

“Given the severity of looming environmental threats, continued state attention on these matters will be critical — and public opinion clearly supports more swift action from government,” they said. 

To read the full story, please click here.

A California-sized network of Western wildlands?

A proposed new network of Western preserves is calling for the “rewilding” of
193,000 square miles of federal land from Washington southeast to New Mexico — an area larger than California.  

At the core of the proposal, published on Tuesday in BioScience, would be the reintroduction of wolves and beavers — animals that were pushed out of the West by government policy, the fur trade and the cattle industry, according to a statement from Oregon State University. 

  • Wolves help keep herds of browsing animals like deer and elk in motion, preventing them from overgrazing prime areas or destroying forests. 
  • Beavers, meanwhile, dam waterways and create low-lying artificial wetlands that are extremely hospitable to plant and animal life. 

Political difficulties: About half the necessary land would come from canceling a third of cattle leases on federal land — which likely means confronting resistance from a powerful constituency. 

“That means we need an economically and socially just federal compensation program for those who give up their grazing permits,” forestry professor Robert Beschta of Oregon State said in a statement.  

A new vision? A coalition of prominent conservation groups — such as Earthjustice, Western Watersheds Program and the Center for Biological Diversity — praised the plan as a “call to action” that sets out a new path for Western landscapes at a fraught time. 

“Climate change adds even more stress to wild places, and scientific visions like this show us a path toward rebuilding our natural heritage,” Kristen Boyles of Earthjustice said in a statement.

Religious nonprofits applaud Inflation Reduction Act

Religious nonprofit leaders are applauding the Senate’s passage of the Inflation Reduction Act — citing opportunities to lower costs and make their buildings more efficient.  

Inflation Reduction Act refresher: The Senate passed this pivotal climate, energy and healthcare package on Sunday, as we covered in Monday’s newsletter.  

  • Vice President Harris (D) cast the deciding vote after a 50-50 deadlock, sending the package to the House, our colleague Alexander Bolton reported.
     
  • The $740 billion bill is poised to raise taxes on corporations, combat climate change, lower prescription drug costs and reduce the deficit.    

Nonprofits stand to benefit: If the act becomes law, it would provide a financial boost to nonprofit organizations and help improve energy efficiency, according to the Orthodox Union (OU) — the country’s largest Orthodox Jewish organization. 

  • The legislation would enable these groups to benefit from energy-related tax credits by making them transferable to for-profit companies. 
  • With such an allowance, a synagogue or church could relay the value of such credits to companies that design new energy systems. 

How would this work? Imagine a 100,000-square-foot school that revamps its HVAC system and increases efficiency by 25 percent would receive a credit worth
50 cents per square foot, the OU suggested.  

That institution could then transfer that theoretical credit — valued at $50,000 — to a contractor installing the new HVAC system, according to the OU. 

Saving money for religious institutions: Moishe Bane, president of the OU, said that “with energy and utility costs being so burdensome,” this boost in funds could help reduce  overhead costs for religious institutions.   

“This resource, combined with other energy-efficiency programs, can potentially provide hundreds of thousands of dollars in support to individual schools, synagogues and others,” added Nathan Diament, OU executive director for public policy.  

A higher purpose: Rev. Brooks Berndt, minister for environmental justice at the United Church of Christ, described the bill’s passage as “the first chapter to a new story” for the climate.  

  • The church hailed the act’s ability to curb emissions by as much as 44 percent, while reducing greenhouse gases and boosting renewable energy programs.  
  • “This new story tells us that change is possible and that we can make a difference for the sake of justice and for the sake of God’s creation,” Berndt added.

Transit Tuesday

Up: Turbulence and U.S. train travel. Down: Big Tech’s contribution to solving our mobility woes.  

Passengers may endure more turbulence thanks to climate change 

  • After several recent incidents of turbulence caused passenger injuries, the Association of Flight Attendants is warning that these sudden, although “fairly normal,” jolts mid-flight may be getting more common due to climate change, according to CBS News. “Take that seatbelt sign seriously, anytime it is on you should be seated and with your seatbelt on,” Taylor Garland, a spokesperson for the association, told CBS. 

Federal funding gives Amtrak post-pandemic pep 

Tech’s tackling of transportation has been a bust: interview 

  • Despite the prominence of companies likes Tesla and Uber, Silicon Valley has comprehensively failed in its 20-year campaign to reinvent transportation, journalist Paris Marx told Gizmodo. ”Maybe I can be generous and [grade them] like a D-plus, but I’d probably say an F,” Marx 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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