Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Hurricane Ian severs sole connection to Gulf islands

Residents of two Southwest Florida islands are now isolated from the rest of the state after Hurricane Ian destroyed the sole bridge connecting them to the mainland.

“This is the only way on and off the islands of Sanibel and Captiva,” Gage Goulding reported from Fort Myers, Fla., for local NBC affiliate WBBH.  

Standing atop a set of fractured asphalt slabs whose painted lane markers were still visible, Goulding gestured toward a 50- to 60-foot section of the collapsed bridge floating in the water.  

“This bridge would typically take us to some of the most pristine beaches in all of Florida and some of our favorites here in Southwest Florida,” he said, referring to the 3-mile Sanibel Causeway bridge.

But now, he explained, that bridge “sits collapsed, submerged in the Gulf of Mexico after suffering some of the strongest winds from Hurricane Ian — which definitely proved to be too much of a battle.” 

Hurricane Ian has left behind a trail of destruction in its path, with about 2 million households across Florida lacking power as of midday Thursday, the Miami Herald reported.   

President Biden warned on Thursday that Ian could prove to be the deadliest storm in Florida’s history, citing “deadly rainfall, catastrophic storm surges, roads and homes flooded.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), meanwhile, told reporters on Thursday that Lee and Charlotte counties were severed from the power grid and would require rebuilt infrastructure. 

Back in Fort Myers, Goulding described the collapsed causeway as a “catastrophic mess,” stressing that many critical questions remained unanswered.  

“How are people going to get home?” he asked. “How long will it take to rebuild this bridge? Is it even possible to rebuild this part of the bridge?”

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. Want to get this in your inbox each week? Subscribe here.

Today we’ll start in New York, where Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) announced a new set of electric vehicle initiatives. And as Hurricane Ian continues to rage in the Southeast, we’ll look at how such storms could threaten coastal hospitals.

NY to mandate zero-emission vehicles in 2035

All new vehicles purchased in the State of New York will need to be zero-emission models beginning in 2035, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) announced on Thursday. 

“We’re really putting our foot down on the accelerator and revving up our efforts to make sure we have this transition — not someday in the future, but on a specific date, a specific year — by the year 2035,” Hochul said at a press conference in White Plains, N.Y.  

Going all EV: After careening into the Chester-Maple Parking Lot in a white Chevy Bolt, Hochul announced a series of new electric vehicle (EV) initiatives for the State of New York, beginning with the zero-emission requirement for 2035.  

  • To reach this target, she said 35 percent of new cars will need to be zero-emission by 2026 and 68 percent by 2030.  
  • All new school buses purchased will have to be zero-emission by 2027, with the entire fleet meeting these standards by 2035, according to the governor.  

Following California’s lead: New York is following in the footsteps of California in mandating zero-emissions vehicles by 2035.  

  • “We had to wait for California to take a step because there’s some federal requirements that California had to go first — that’s the only time we’re letting them go first,” the governor said. 
  • Hochul was referring to California’s vote last month to ban the sale of gas-powered cars beginning in 13 years, as The Hill reported. 

Why must California be first? Any state-led move to enforce stricter emissions rules must occur first in California, per federal regulations.  

  • When Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1970, it authorized California to set its own emissions standards due to smog conditions at the time.  
  • Only then can other states follow suit. 

What else did Hochul announce? The governor also unveiled a $10 million investment in the state’s Drive Clean Rebate program, which she said could “help New Yorkers purchase and drive these vehicles.” 

  • An up to $2,000 rebate, she explained, is available in all 62 counties.  
  • The state has already issued more than 78,000 rebates and spent more than $90 million on the programs, according to the governor.  

To see what else is in store for EVs in New York, please click here for the full story. 

Hurricanes could jeopardize coastal hospitals

As Hurricane Ian continues to batter the southeastern U.S., Harvard University researchers have revealed that hundreds of coastal hospitals are at risk of flooding from future storms.  

Threatening the coast: Sea level rise forecasted for this century raises the odds of hospital flooding by 22 percent, according to the scientists, who published their findings in GeoHealth.  

  • Even relatively weak systems pose a serious flood risk to hospitals located along the country’s coasts, the study warned.  
  • “Hurricanes are expected to get more severe and may strike regions further north than in the past due to climate change,” senior author Aaron Bernstein, of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a statement.   

Ian batters Florida hospitals: Hurricane Ian — which made landfall as a Category 4 storm — inundated the HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital in Port Charlotte, Fla., on Wednesday, The Associated Press reported.

  • The storm surge flooded the lower-level emergency room, while fierce winds tore off part of the fourth-floor roof.  
  • Water gushed into the ICU, forcing staff members to evacuate the hospital’s sickest patients. 

Evacuations abound: Across Florida, thousands of people were evacuated from other hospitals and nursing homes, according to the AP. 

  • In the Fort Myers region, potable water supplies were cut off at nine hospitals.  
  • As many as 20 nursing homes reported electricity outages, although generators were running in those buildings.

A PERVASIVE PROBLEM

Bernstein and his colleagues at Harvard identified 682 acute care hospitals in 78 metropolitan regions located within 10 miles of the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. 

These areas cover a population of fewer than 85 million people, or about 1 in
4 Americans.

Of the 78 metropolitan areas, the researchers found that 25 have half or more of their hospitals at risk of flood from a Category 2 storm.

Which fared worst? The researchers identified 10 metro areas in which a Category 2 hurricane will most jeopardize hospital care: 

  • Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, Fla. 
  • New York-Newark-Jersey City, N.Y.-N.J.-Pa.
  • Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Mass.-N.H.
  • Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, Fla.
  • New Orleans-Metairie, La.
  • Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Fla.
  • North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, Fla.
  • Jacksonville, Fla.
  • Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla.
  • Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, Pa.-N.J.-Del.-Md. 

A call to action: “In places like my hometown of Boston, we can avoid crises that other hospitals have had to endure by learning from their experience and creating plans that build on best practices,” Bernstein said.  

“But we must act now, before disaster strikes,” he added. 

To read more details from the study, please click here for the full story. 

A dangerous opposition 

African and South American Indigenous groups are organizing against oil development in the world’s two largest rainforests: the Amazon and the Congo. 

But as a report published on Thursday shows, such opposition could become a risky play. 

Fighting drilling in the Congo: The development of 30 proposed oil blocks in the Congolese rainforest would bring a host of threats, Indigenous rights activists told The Associated Press. 

  • One principle concern is potential deforestation on a landscape that currently soaks up about 4 percent of total global emissions. 
  • Other threats include tension with neighbors like Rwanda — since 18 of the blocks are in jointly administered borderlands — as well as the risk of waterborne disease to local communities. 

Blocking a river in the Amazon: Indigenous activists in Peru on Wednesday blockaded the Maranon River in a protest over the spilling of 2,500 barrels of oil in the Amazon rain forest, Reuters reported. 

  • The Maranon is the main tributary of the enormous Amazon River and a key regional transport hub. 
  • In global terms, Peru is a very minor oil producer — but most of its oilfields are concentrated in the sensitive landscapes of the Amazon. 

Deadly business: Such environmental and land activism is dangerous — with
200 murdered in 2021, according to a new study from the human rights nonprofit Global Witness. 

  • An environmental activist or land defender has been murdered approximately every two days since 2012, the nonprofit found. 
  • More than three-quarters of last years’ killings happened in Latin America, according to The Associated Press. 

A grim header: particular standout in these rankings is Mexico, where more than a quarter of last year’s murders took place, the AP reported. 

  • Yaqui leader Tómas Rojo was murdered after blockading a highway in protest of a state project that siphoned his community’s water for the state capital.
  • “It’s an injustice, it’s a great sadness to see our river without water. That river bears our name. That is where animals live, our medical plants, our reeds live. We don’t have reeds anymore,” César Cota, one of Rojo’s collaborators, told the AP. 

Methane leaks far worse than believed 

Global emissions of methane from existing gas infrastructure may be up to five times higher than had been believed, a new study has found. 

Through the cracks: Existing measures to burn off the powerful greenhouse gas allow far more to slip by than had been believed, according to the paper published by researchers from the University of Michigan and University of Arizona on Thursday in Science. 

  • Methane is dozens of times more potent than carbon dioxide.  
  • A bipartisan bill put forth on Wednesday by Reps. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) and Sean Casten (D-Ill.) seeks to tackle the problem by promoting research on mitigating methane emissions.  
  • The act “focuses our best and brightest at the Department of Energy on methane emissions, one of the most potent greenhouse gasses,” Meijer said in a statement.  

What is flaring? At times or in areas where there isn’t sufficient pipeline or storage for the quantities of natural gas being produced — sometimes as a byproduct of more lucrative oil — drilling operators “flare,” or burn off, the methane. 

  • It had long been believed that flaring converts all the methane into water vapor and relatively inert carbon dioxide — a greenhouse gas that also heats the climate but is far less potent. 
  • But this is an “overly optimistic view” of flaring, which leaves far more methane behind than had been believed, according to a companion essay in Science. 

Leaks are far worse: In fact, studies of three major natural gas basins — the
Eagle Ford and Permian in Texas, and the Bakken of North Dakota — found that only 91 percent of the methane is consumed.  

  • That’s in part because flares are often malfunctioning or simply unlit — allowing raw methane to vent into the atmosphere. 
  • If these flares operated properly at even 98 percent efficiency, they would cut emissions enough to be the equivalent of removing nearly 3 million cars from the road, according to the Science study.   

For the rest of the study, please click here


Thursday Threats

Why the climate impacts of Bitcoin rival beef, Big company execs not on the hook for climate coals and Europe faces a winter of interrupted cell service. 

Environmental costs of Bitcoin equal those of beef production: study  

  • The environmental costs of mining the cryptocurrency Bitcoin are on par with those of producing beef, according to an analysis in Scientific Reports. Rather than being considered “digital gold,” Bitcoin should be compared to much more energy intensive resources like beef, natural gas and crude oil, the authors argued.

Corporate climate goals aren’t linked to executive compensation 

  • While an increasing number of large U.S. companies are making public statements about climate change, very few are linking emissions reductions to executive pay, Reuters reported. “We have concerns the way in which it’s being done isn’t going to reduce emissions,” Melissa Walton of As You Sow — the nonprofit that prepared the report — told Reuters.   

Europe to face cell phone service outages this winter 

  • A lack of backup electricity infrastructure in Europe’s telecom industry could lead to widespread cell phone service outages this winter if energy shortages begin to bite amid curtailed gas shipments from Russia, Reuters reported. The continent has about half a million cell phone towers, most of which have only 30 minutes of battery backup available, according to Reuters. 

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

VIEW THE FULL EDITION HERE

Tags Biden Captiva Florida Hurricane Ian hurricanes Kathy Hochul Ron DeSantis Ron DeSantis Sanibel zero-emission vehicles

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