Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — World moving ‘in the wrong direction’ on climate: UN    

The Associated Press/Jose Luis Magana

The planet is “heading in the wrong direction” on climate change, as the physical and socioeconomic effects of warming become increasingly severe, the United Nations (U.N.) warned in a new report on Tuesday. 

The multi-agency report, steered by the World Meteorological Organization, aggregates the most recent science related to climate change, as well as its effects and responses.  

With greenhouse gas concentrations rising to record highs, fossil fuel emission rates are now back above pre-pandemic levels following a temporary drop due to lockdowns, according to the report.  

The authors also called for more robust pledges to tackle emissions, saying that in order to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius reduction pledges for 2030 must be seven times higher.

Weather, climate and water-related disasters have become so frequent — increasing fivefold in the past 50 years — that such events are resulting in $202 million in losses daily, according to the report.  

“Floods, droughts, heatwaves, extreme storms and wildfires are going from bad to worse, breaking records with alarming frequency,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement.  

Citing heat waves in Europe, floods in Pakistan and prolonged droughts around the world, Guterres stressed that “there is nothing natural about the new scale of these disasters.”  

“They are the price of humanity’s fossil fuel addiction,” the secretary-general 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 begin with the next installment of The Hill’s Dried Up series — a look at how a disappearing Great Salt Lake is causing toxic air pollution. Then, we’ll discuss a new network of electric truck stops and a federal effort to save tricolored bats.  

Drying Salt Lake causing air pollution 

While cars and wildfires are contributing to Utah’s pollution problems, the Great Salt Lake is playing a role in the state’s air quality decline that is less obvious — but increasingly significant. 

Toxic dust: Located just northwest of Salt Lake City, the Western Hemisphere’s largest saltwater lake is disappearing due to water use and drought, our colleague Rachel Frazin reported, in the fourth installment of The Hill’s Dried Up series.  

  • This drying sea is kicking up dust laced with toxic metals — including arsenic — into the air of a metro area populated by about 1.2 million people.   
  • Particle pollution in the air has been linked to asthma, heart attacks, worsened lung function and premature death.   

Great Salt Lake is not alone: Similar problems are affecting California’s Salton Sea, and Iran’s salty Lake Urmia has also been shrinking, as has Africa’s Lake Chad and the Caspian Sea between Europe and Asia, Frazin reported.   

Shrinking sea: A combination of human activity and drought has reduced the lake by half, Wayne Wurtsbaugh, a professor emeritus at Utah State University, told Frazin. 

The Great Salt Lake has a maximum depth of 35 feet, but water use alone has shaved off 11 feet and decreased the lake’s volume by 48 percent, according to Wurtsbaugh. 

Dust you can ‘taste’: Carly Ferro, the director of the Sierra Club’s Utah chapter, told Frazin that on a particularly dusty day, the mountains typically visible near her home disappear. 

“You can almost taste” the dust, she added.  

Short- and long-term concerns: Kevin Perry, an atmospheric sciences professor at the University of Utah, told Frazin that he views the general dust issue as an immediate issue.  

The toxic metals, on the other hand, are more of a long-term concern, he explained.  

  • “If the lake remains low for decades and the surface continues to pump dust into the communities, then we’ll eventually start to see impacts,” Perry said of the metals. 
  • “What I’m more concerned about are these short duration plumes that come off the lake that impact people’s health immediately,” he added.      

To learn about the respiratory impacts area residents are experiencing and why water use in Utah is so high, please click here to read the full story. 

$1 billion for a network of electric truck stops 

Electric vehicle (EV) charging startup TeraWatt Infrastructure has raised $1 billion in a bid to extend the reach of its commercial charging network nationwide, the company announced on Tuesday. 

Such a network of truck stops could help decarbonize one of the most challenging sectors: heavy freight. 

Business model: TeraWatt operates by buying up “strategically located” lots to build large-scale electric truck stops in metro areas, major highway corridors and logistics hubs, Reuters reported. 

A capital play: Institutional investors like Vision Ridge Partners are banking on San Francisco-based TeraWatt Infrastructure’s ability to provide charging hubs for commercial delivery fleets. 

“The future of electrified transport is at a critical inflection point, whereby solutions for large-scale EV charging infrastructure must be established to meet the increasing demand for electrification of all fleets,” Paul Luce of Vision Ridge Partners, one of the new funders, said in a statement. 

Vision Ridge joins initial funders Keyframe Capital, which made the initial investment in Terawatt in 2021. 

A fleet opportunity: Keyframe recognized “that the demand for fleet charging hubs would rapidly outpace supply, which is now a commonly understood challenge,” partner Benjamin Birnbaum said in a statement. 

Even this $1 billion “barely scratches the surface as global investments in electric vehicle charging are expected to approach $1 trillion by 2040,” Birnbaum added. 

Tricolored bat nearing extinction due to fatal fungus 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced a proposal on Tuesday to place tricolored bats on its endangered species list, as the animals struggle to contend with a deadly fungus.  

Darkness and dehydration: The species is on the brink of extinction due primarily to the impacts of “white-nose syndrome,” a disease caused by the growth of a fungus that looks like white fuzz on their muzzles and wings, according to FWS.  

  • The fungus thrives in cold, dark, damp caverns and typically targets bats during hibernation.  
  • Those animals infected wake up more frequently, often succumbing to dehydration and starvation before spring comes, the FWS explained.  

Ecosystem and economics: “White-nose syndrome is decimating hibernating bat species like the tricolored bat at unprecedented rates,” FWS Director Martha Williams said in a statement.  

  • “Bats play such an important role in ensuring a healthy ecosystem,” Williams continued.  
  • Bats contribute at least $3 billion each year to the U.S. agricultural economy by means of pest control and pollination, according to the FWS.  

Where do tricolored bats live? They’re found east of the Rocky Mountains in
39 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, in four Canadian provinces from the Atlantic Coast to the Great Lakes and in parts of eastern Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize and Nicaragua, FWS said.  

The biggest of many threats: The proposal to classify tricolored bats as endangered arose following a comprehensive review tracking the decline of the species, according to FWS.  

  • The species has dwindled so dramatically that it now meets the definition of endangered under the Endangered Species Act, per the review.  
  • While white-nose syndrome is the most serious danger to the tricolored bat, climate change is exacerbating a range of other threats, FWS stated.  
  • Some such threats include changes in temperature and precipitation, mortality at wind energy facilities and disturbances in roosting, foraging, commuting and wintering.  

Open for comment: Members of the public can comment on the proposed rule through Nov. 14, by searching for docket number FWS-R5-ES-2021-0163 on the federal rulemaking portal.  

To find out what plans FWS has in place to help safeguard the bats in collaboration with other stakeholders, please click here for the full story. 

Energy transition a cost-saving ‘win-win-win’: study 

While switching to renewable energy sources is often framed as an expensive if necessary sacrifice, a new study suggests a transition away from fossil fuels will ultimately save the world’s economies trillions of dollars. 

The study from Oxford University found that the move to green energy represents a “win-win-win,” researchers say, yielding bigger worldwide cost savings the faster it’s implemented. 

Big savings: A global transition from fossil fuels to renewables by 2050 would save the world’s economies a minimum of $12 trillion, according to the study, published on Tuesday in the scientific journal Joule. 

In that scenario, the world moves off fossil fuels entirely but still is able to generate
55 percent more energy than today through standing up both existing and emerging green technologies. 

That’s compared to a pathway in which the world takes additional decades to move to renewables — or doesn’t do it at all. 

Correcting a mistake: “There is a pervasive misconception that switching to clean, green energy will be painful, costly and mean sacrifices for us all – but that’s just wrong,” lead researcher Doyne Farmer said in a statement.

  • “Past models, predicting high costs for transitioning to zero carbon energy, have deterred companies from investing,” lead author Rupert Way said in a statement. 
  • Way added that such models also “made governments nervous about setting policies that will accelerate the energy transition and cut reliance on fossil fuels.”

Prices plummet: But prices of wind and solar energy have fallen far faster than those models predicted. 

Short-term caveat to long-term trend: Rising commodity prices for compounds like polysilicon amid the global rush for renewables may change those financials over the short term, Bloomberg noted.

  • But over the long term, the Oxford team found, wind energy, battery storage technology and other frontier storage technologies — like hydrogen fuel made by solar power — are likely to experience similar price drops 
  • Those plunging costs will drop ever faster the more investment the sectors in question receive, the researchers said. 

More investment means lower costs: Renewables “will become cheaper than fossil fuels across almost all applications in the years to come,” according to Farmer, the lead researcher.  

“And, if we accelerate the transition, they will become cheaper faster,” Farmer said. 

To read the rest of this story, please click here

Transport Tuesday

Honda to launch electric motorcycle fleet, an off-grid canopy to charge electric vehicles and President Biden pledges to renovate American airports. 

Honda to electrify motorcycle fleet 

  • Honda, the world’s biggest motorcycle manufacturer, announced plans on Tuesday to launch more than 10 electric motorcycle models by 2025, The Hill’s Changing America reported. The company said it is aiming for sales of 1 million units over the next five years, and that models will range from commuter scooters to larger dirt and streets bikes. 

Company debuts EV solar charger  

  • A new off-grid solar canopy can shade an electric vehicle while charging it, tech news site Electrek reported. Charger company Paired Powers says these chargers can deliver enough power for 75 miles of daily travel — about twice the quantity that the average American needs, according to Electrek.

Biden laments state of US airports

  • At the tail end of a summer of flight delays and travel frustrations, President Biden announced on Monday that funds from last year’s bipartisan infrastructure plan would be spent on renovating U.S. airports, The Hill reported. “Not a single solitary American airport, not one, ranks in the top 25 in the world,” Biden 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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