Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Outdoor enthusiasts oppose ‘scenic corridor’ trails

Maryland Welcomes You road sign on the scenic byway US Route 15 at the border of Maryland and Virginia. It has MD flag and says open for business.

Nature-lovers are voicing fierce opposition to a plan to expand hiking and biking trails they say would threaten the “wildest place in Maryland,” The Washington Post reported.  

The proposal, supported by two conservative state lawmakers and the nonprofit organization Garrett Trails — would bring permanent two-way paths through what the Post described as “the heart of the scenic Youghiogheny River.” 

Advocates like Garrett Trails, which is led by resort, lodging and other business interests, say that the canyon trail would broaden public access to Appalachia and contribute to the local economy, according to the Post.   

“I can’t kayak that river anymore — I’m past my prime being able to enjoy that — but I would certainly enjoy hiking up and down that river,” Rob Hammond, a security systems consultant who used to kayak when he lived in Cleveland, told the Post.  

While Hammond argued that people “should have access” to this public resource, opponents say the plans would violate a 1968 law that designated the Youghiogheny as Maryland’s only wild river, the Post reported.  

“Personally, I’m for trails,” Roger Zbel, owner of a local whitewater rafting company, told the Post.  

“I mountain bike, I hike, I do it all,” he added. “But I’m really against a trail going up in the wild and scenic corridor.” 

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. I’m Sharon Udasin. Send me tips and feedback. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

Today we’ll start with a look at how drought is affecting two sides of the world — threatening industry and uncovering relics of yesteryear. Then we’ll turn to a judge’s decision to block President Biden’s pause on oil leases, followed by a study exploring how spikes in wheat prices could exacerbate economic inequalities.  

China declares first drought warning in nine years 

Chinese officials have issued the country’s first nationwide drought warning in nine years, as residents contend with one of the worst heat waves in 60 years, CNN reported.  

Blazing temperatures all-around: The “yellow” alert, declared on Friday, is the third-highest drought level on China’s four-step scale, according to CNN.    

  • This warning level means that at least two provinces are facing drought-like conditions and that more such weather is anticipated. 
     
  • At least 244 cities across China could see temperatures surge above
    104 degrees Fahrenheit, while another 407 could see temperatures pass
    98 degrees, the country’s meteorological agency said on Friday.    

Rivers drying up: Some 66 rivers across 34 counties in China’s southwestern region of Chongqing have dried up, Reuters reported, citing state broadcaster CCTV.  

Precipitation this year in Chongqing has plunged 60 percent in comparison to the seasonal norm, according to Reuters.  

Global tech could suffer: The province of Sichuan — about 200 miles northwest of Chongqing — closed down factories this week to alleviate heat-related electricity shortages, as we reported.  

Sichuan is a manufacturing hub for some of the world’s largest electronics firms, including Apple supplier Foxconn and chipmaker Intel. 

Economic impacts: Extreme heat in China could also strain the world’s second-largest economy, which is already coping with the effects of its pandemic lockdowns and an ongoing real estate crisis, according to CNN.  

HISTORIC RELICS EMERGE IN DROUGHT-RAVAGED EUROPE 

Across the world, European countries are likewise weathering drought conditions so intense that long-lost relics of history are emerging from once-flowing bodies of water.  

Uncovering the ‘Spanish Stonehenge’: A prehistoric stone circle — dubbed the “Spanish Stonehenge” — has risen out of dam whose waterline receded, Reuters reported.  

Officially known as the Dolmen of Guadalperal, the circle of megalithic stones may date back to 5000 BC, according to Reuters.  

A ‘rare opportunity’: The ancient stones are now sitting full exposed in a corner of the Valdecanas reservoir, located in the central province of Caceres, Reuters reported.  

  • The Valdecanas’s water level has plummeted to 28 percent of its capacity, per local authorities.  
  • The Dolmen of Guadalperal was discovered by archeologist Hugo Obermaier in 1926, but was flooded in 1963 by a development project.  

“It’s a surprise, it’s a rare opportunity to be able to access it,” archeologist Enrique Cedillo, of Madrid’s Complutense University, told Reuters.  

Nazi-era ships blocking the Danube: Plunging water levels in Europe’s Danube River have exposed a series of vessels receiving much less welcome than the Spanish Stonehenge.  

The receding river has revealed “dozens of explosives-laden German warships sunk during World War II” that had sunk near the town of Prahovo in Serbia, another Reuters story reported.  

  • These vessels — operated by Nazi Germany’s Black Sea fleet in 1944 — were among hundreds left behind as Soviet troops advanced. 
  • These ships not only create river congestion when the Danube’s water level drops, they also contain tons of ammunition.  

Pending ecological disaster: “The German flotilla has left behind a big ecological disaster that threatens us, people of Prahovo,” Velimir Trajilovic, who wrote a book about the ships, told Reuters.   

Judge permanently blocks oil leasing pause 

A Louisiana judge has issued a permanent injunction against President Biden’s pause on new oil and gas leasing on federal lands, our colleague Zack Budryk reported for The Hill.  

Violation of two key acts: Judge Terry Doughty of the Western District of Louisiana on Thursday blocked a January 2021 order in 13 states that had sued over that order in March of that year.  

  • Doughty ruled that the order was in violation of the Mineral Leasing Act and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, the latter of which has a five-year plan that “requires eligible leases to be sold.”  
  • The Mineral Leasing Act, he said, mandates the Interior Department to hold lease sales quarterly.    

What was in Biden’s order? The president’s original order blocked new federal oil and gas leasing on federal lands, while enabling existing leases and leases on private land to continue, Budryk reported.  

Which states sued over the order? Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and West Virginia. 

Doughty’s ruling applies only to these states that were involved in the lawsuit, Budryk reported.  

Wheat price hikes could worsen economic inequality

Surges in wheat prices — fueled by climate change — can both threaten food security and exacerbate economic inequality, a new study has found.  

Wheat yield economics: The study, published in One Earth on Friday, explored the impacts of climate change on the global wheat supply and demand chain in an environment that is 2 degrees Celsius warmer (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). 

  • The 2-degree threshold is important because countries agreed to ensure that temperature rise would stay below this limit at the 2015 United National Climate Change Conference.  
  • In the One Earth study, the authors used what they described as a “climate-wheat-economic” modeling approach to investigate the potential economic effects of shifts in wheat yields. 

What did they find? The authors found that “carbon dioxide fertilization” — in which greater levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide end up increasing the rate of photosynthesis — could make up for the temperature stress on crops.  

Farmers could therefore end up with a slightly greater wheat yield under a 2-degree Celsius temperature rise, according to the authors.  

Isn’t that a good thing? Not necessarily. The researchers observed that global yield increases do not necessarily lead to lower consumer prices.  

That’s because global wheat price spikes would also become higher and more frequent, placing added economic pressures on daily livelihoods, according to their model.  

The impacts could be location-dependent: “This counterintuitive result is initially driven by uneven impacts geographically,” lead author Zhang Tianyi, an agro-meteorologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said in a statement.   

“Wheat yields are projected to increase in high-latitude wheat exporting countries but show decreases in low-latitude wheat importing countries,” Zhang added.  

  • This means that yields could increase in countries like the U.S., Russia and those in Northern Europe, according to the study. 
  • But output in countries like Egypt, India and Venezuela could plummet by as much as 15 percent.    

Global ramifications: Such differences could result in “higher demand for international trade and higher consumer prices in the importing countries,” according to co-author Karin van der Wiel, a climate scientist at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute.  

  • One result of those price hikes could be a loss of income for local farmers in wheat importing countries, according to Wei Taoyuan, study co-author and an economic scientist at Norway’s CICERO Center for International Climate Research.  
  • “These results would potentially cause a larger income gap, creating a new economic inequality between wheat importing and exporting countries,” Taoyuan said.  

Follow-up Friday 

In which we revisit some of the issues we’ve covered over the past week. 

Traffic deaths reached record highs in first months of 2022 

Tropical wave moving into Gulf of Mexico  

US oil and gas rigs fall for third consecutive week 

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

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