Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — America votes on Alaska’s champion Fat Bear

This photo taken July 4, 2013, in Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska, shows a brown bear walking to a sandbar to eat a salmon it had just caught at Brooks Falls. It’s expensive and difficult to reach the park about 250 miles west of Anchorage, and explore.org has again set up high definition webcams to livestream the daily activities of the bears at the park. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

Before Alaska’s furriest giants hunker down for hibernation, members of the public have the opportunity to vote for the brawniest brown bear — in a pivotal event called Fat Bear Week.   

The annual celebration, hosted by Alaska’s Katmai National Park & Preserve, serves to honor “the resilience, adaptability and strength of Katmai’s brown bears,” according to the National Park Service.  

The bears are matched up against each other in what the Park Service describes as a “march madness” style tournament, allowing online voters to ultimately choose who is crowned Fat Bear Week champion.   

Among the 12 participants are 32 Chunk, weighing in at an estimated 1,200 pounds, according to the Park Service. One of the most dominant animals, he tends to have access to the best mating opportunities but is a patient bear. 

But 32 Chunk faces hefty competition from contenders like 335, a 2.5-year-old “subadult” — what the Park Service dubs “the teenagers of the bear world,” or those who rank lowest in the hierarchy of bears. 335 was emancipated by her mother, 435 Holly, who was the 2019 Fat Bear Week champion.  

From Wednesday through Tuesday, virtual visitors can take part in a series of live events to learn more about the lives and histories of individual bears, according to the Park Service.  

Voting is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Alaska Daylight Time at www.fatbearweek.org

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 see how the U.S. government aims to cut the carbon cost of new construction and why Europe is already worrying about winter. Then we’ll look at a new model of the apocalyptic destruction an asteroid brought to the dinosaurs — and NASA’s attempt to prevent a repeat.  

US to prioritize domestic, low-carbon materials 

The U.S. government will for the first time prioritize the use of American-made, lower-carbon construction materials in federal procurement and federally funded projects, the General Services Administration (GSA) announced on Tuesday. 

Eyeing lower carbon: To realize this goal, the GSA has issued a request for information about the availability of domestically manufactured, locally sourced “low-embodied-carbon” materials.  

  • Low-embodied-carbon materials are those that generate fewer carbon emissions during the process of constructing a building. 
  • The move is part of the Biden administration’s Federal Buy Clean Initiative, which aims to stimulate markets for low-carbon products made in the U.S., according to the GSA. 

Good for jobs, good for the planet: “Using domestic, lower-carbon construction materials is a triple win,” GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan said in a statement. 

Such a transition, she added, will help create “good-paying American jobs, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and ensuring a healthy planet for the next generation.”  

Long list of materials: The GSA’s request is targeting industry partners and small businesses with expertise on a variety of low-embodied-carbon materials. 

  • Among those materials are concrete, including prefabricated products, as well as steel, including structural and rebar, and flat glass, including window assemblies. 
  • Other materials on the list are asphalt, gypsum board, structural engineered wood and aluminum — including curtain walls and storefronts. 
  • Also of interest are materials used for insulation and roofing. 

For all of these materials, the GSA said it prefers those “with substantially lower levels of embodied carbon as compared to industry averages, or other estimates of similar materials.” 

To find out how to submit ideas, please click here to read the full story.   

Natural gas uncertainty rattles Europe’s environment

Russia’s Nord Stream gas pipelines emitted record-breaking levels of methane after they mysteriously ruptured last week, NPR reported.   

Monumental leaks: While the leaks have nearly stopped, experts are describing the event as “the single largest discharge” of this “extremely potent greenhouse gas,” according to NPR.  

“It dwarfs the previous known leaks,” Ioannis Binietoglou, who monitors methane emissions for the nonprofit Clean Air Task Force, told NPR. 

What happened again? A series of unexplained leaks — preceded by underwater blasts — shuttered Russia’s Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines in the Baltic Sea, as we previously reported. 

  • The ruptures had no immediate effect on energy supplies to Europe, as neither pipeline was operating at the time. 
  • But experts expressed concern about potential environmental impacts.  

A potent release: Methane — the main component of natural gas — is more than 80 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide over 20 years.  

  • Although the exact amount of gas discharged remains unknown, Danish estimates indicate that as much as half a million metric tons of methane was released.  
  • That’s about five times more than the largest leak at this point, which occurred in California in 2015-2016.  

Ramping up defense: With the West and the Kremlin both blaming each other for apparent sabotage, a U.K. Royal Navy ship has now arrived to the North Sea to help defend other gas infrastructure, according to Sky News.  

Britain’s Ministry of Defense decided moved the ship there to work with the Norwegian navy “to reassure those working near the gas pipelines,” Sky News reported.  

POTENTIAL NEW GAS SOURCE FOR EUROPE 

Israel and Lebanon are considering a U.S.-brokered agreement on maritime borders that would allow Israel to export gas to Europe, The Wall Street Journal reported.  

Should the deal go forward, this would mark a rare instance of cooperation between the two neighbors, according to the Journal.  

What would the deal entail? Israel would gain full control of a disputed Mediterranean gas field, called Karish, the Journal reported.  

  • The Qana gas field — located farther north — would come under Lebanon’s control, but Israel would keep a stake in the gas situated within its territory. 
     
  • Both countries have indicated that they would accept a draft agreement sent to them last week.    

Lebanon may oppose parts of the deal: Lebanon is against several clauses in the draft agreement, The Jerusalem Post reported, citing Lebanese media.  

One such obstacle could involve Lebanon’s refusal to grant Israel the right to search for gas in the disputed territory, according to the Post.  

US envoy claims Lebanon got all of its demands: David Schenker, a Trump-era official who had been formerly tasked with settling this conflict, told The Times of Israel that Israel was meeting all of Lebanon’s demands with this agreement.  

The government of Israel, according to Schenker, has elected to come to an agreement with Lebanon about the maritime borders — even if doing so “is heavily in Lebanon’s favor.” 

‘Woke capital’ fights ESG requirements  

Asset manager BlackRock is pushing back on attempts by U.S. federal regulators to create clearer guidelines around environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.  

  • The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is pushing firms to disclose the rationale behind their proprietary ESG ratings. 
  • Doing so would likely lead to fewer ESG-focused funds — while ensuring that those that remain are more reputable and reliably sustainable, Mindy Lubber, of sustainable finance group Ceres, told the Journal.

Big but opaque: More than $350 billion had been invested in ESG funds as of the end of 2021, according to the financial analysts at Morningstar.

  • But Morningstar also flagged the sector’s lack of transparency around what makes any particular fund sustainable as a major problem for the sector to solve. 
  • One in 7 funds marketed as ESG has a higher carbon intensity than the average fund, Reuters reported.

Why does BlackRock object? In an August letter to the SEC, company representatives warned that the new rules could require funds to disclose proprietary information “over and above what funds are required to disclose for other investment strategies.” 

They also argued that having to compile such information would put “an undue burden” on fund managers.

Dino-killing asteroid unleashed global tsunamis 

The asteroid that decimated the dinosaurs 66 million years ago triggered mile-high waves that churned up the ocean floor across the globe, a new study has found. 

The new paper in AGU Advances presents a grim case study into the damage a large extraterrestrial impact can cause to life on Earth — and the urgent necessity to develop tools that can keep such an impact from happening. 

  • The miles-wide space rock slammed into in what is now the Gulf of Mexico. 
  • But the earthquakes and tsunamis that were triggered by the crash flooded coastlines and scrambled seafloors as far away as New Zealand. 

Immediate impacts: Simulations prepared by a team at University of Michigan showed the rapid, deadly results of the collision.   

  • Within two-and-a-half minutes, a nearly 3-mile-high wave was racing in all directions. 
  • Within 10 minutes, the now mile-high wave had raced to 137 miles from the point of impact — a distance that required it to move faster than the speed of sound. 
  • Within 24 hours — as the waves propagated across both Atlantic and Pacific — enormous waves were entering the Indian Ocean from both directions.

Earth-shattering results: The waves would have left “most coastal regions … inundated and eroded to some extent,” the study authors wrote in a statement.  

  • “Any historically documented tsunamis pale in comparison with such global impact,” they said. 
  • For example, the initial energy released in the asteroid impact was
    30,000 times more than the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004 — an event that killed nearly a quarter million people.

AVOIDING A REPEAT 

Last week, NASA slammed its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft into an asteroid — part of an attempt to perfect planetary defenses to the point that they can deflect future celestial objects that could be headed for Earth, CBS reported.

  • But in the event of a possible impact, it would do little good in such a scenario to blow the asteroid up. 
  • Doing so could just transform a solid asteroid into an equally dangerous shotgun blast of mini-asteroids “still going in the same direction,” DART program manager Elena Adams told CBS.

“The easiest thing to do is to actually just change its direction slightly, and then it will miss Earth entirely,” Adams added. 

Were we in danger? No. The target — a 525-foot wide “moonlet” Dimorphos, which orbits a larger asteroid — posed no danger to the Earth. 

Did it work? We don’t know yet. DART hit the bullseye — smashing into Dimorphos last week at 14,000 miles per hour — but it will take weeks to tell how much that changed the asteroid’s trajectory, CBS reported. 

Sweet revenge: But back on Earth, humans were already taking victory laps. “THIS ONE IS FOR THE DINOSAURS,” Twitter user DART the Asteroid Slayer posted as DART slammed into Dimorphos. 

Transport Tuesday  

Flight attendants will get longer breaks between flights, a new air taxi design drops and U.S. allies push back on electric vehicle (EV) tax break scheme. 

FAA gives extends flight attendant rest time 

  • The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is increasing the amount of break time that airlines must grant flight attendants between shifts, Zach Schonfeld reported for The Hill. “As any pilot can tell you, we cannot fly the plane without this safety expertise and support of flight attendants,” said acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolan.   

New air taxi contender aims for skies 

  • Aerospace company Wisk on Monday premiered its new autonomous air taxi, Gizmodo reported. The school bus-yellow four-seater plane would be able to take off and land vertically, like a helicopter — while keeping flight costs below $3 per passenger per mile, according to the company. 

U.S. EV tax breaks anger allies 

  • U.S. allies in Europe and Asia are angry about America’s new EV tax breaks — which would not apply to many products produced outside the U.S., The Wall Street Journal reported. Some officials in South Korea, Japan and the E.U. argue that these breaks are essentially a protective tariff that may break international rules, the Journal noted. 

Programming note: Sustainability will be off tomorrow in observance of Yom Kippur. We will be back on Thursday, Oct. 6!

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

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