Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Florida coastline erosion visible from space

A Coast Guard helicopter flies over damaged homes and buildings in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, on Sanibel Island, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

As Florida struggles to recover from the dramatic effects of Hurricane Ian, massive amounts of soil from the state’s coastline are seeping into the Gulf of Mexico. 

“Ian sure churned up the waters of the Gulf of Mexico,” astronaut Bob “Farmer” Hines tweeted on Wednesday from the International Space Station.  

Hines posted a photo from two days after the storm made landfall, depicting how the peninsula was shedding both mud and “all the water Hurricane Ian dumped on it.” 

Also visible from space were teal-colored scars left near Florida’s coast after Ian entered the state, Fox Weather reported, alongside photos from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  

The scars were a result of the storm’s winds, which reached up to 150 miles per hour and generated giant waves, according to Fox. Those waves then became what Fox described as “a miles-long blender that churned up sediment form the depths of the Gulf of Mexico.”  

While meteorologists marveled over photos sent down from space, a new group of astronauts — and one Russian cosmonaut — were set to arrive at the International Space Station on Thursday evening.  

The Moscow Times characterized the inclusion of the cosmonaut as a move carrying “significant symbolism” of U.S.-Russia space collaboration, despite Moscow’s war in Ukraine.    

SpaceX Crew-5 launched on Wednesday. The astronauts will spend several months aboard the station conducting new research in areas such as cardiovascular health and behavior in microgravity, according to NASA. 

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 a copy in your inbox? Subscribe here.

Today we’ll start in San Francisco, where Pacific Coast leaders signed a regional climate agreement. Then we’ll look at Uber’s new plan to bring driverless taxis to American cities. Plus: A new analysis showing the growth of U.S. wind and solar.

West Coast leaders broaden climate collaboration 

Pacific Coast leaders on Thursday signed an agreement to expand the region’s climate partnership — with hopes of accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy.  

“We don’t have all the answers. And so we seek to share best practices, we seek to compete,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said at a press conference in San Francisco.    

“That competition has brought us to where we are today,” the governor continued. “We’re in the how business.” 

Coastal consensus: Newsom gathered with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D), Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) and British Columbia Premier John Horgan to sign the Pacific Coast Collaborative Statement of Cooperation.  

  • The renewed partnership will promote investments in climate infrastructure, such as electric vehicle charging stations and a clean electric grid.  
  • Officials also pledged to protect their residents from climate impacts like drought and wildfire, while ensuring that all communities are included in the clean energy transition. 

Renewing commitments: The agreement builds on the ongoing work of the Pacific Coast Collaborative, a regional partnership launched in 2016.  

California, Oregon, Washington state and British Columbia, as well as the cities of Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles, are all members of the collaborative. 

Economic reach: The Pacific Coast region represents 57 million people with a combined gross domestic product of $3.5 trillion, according to Newsom’s office.  

Taken as a whole, that’s the fifth largest economy in the world, Gregor Robertson, former mayor of Vancouver and Pacific Coast Collaborative ambassador said in a video statement.  

Climate change up close: “These four leaders you’re hearing from today — we have watched, we have smelled, we have suffered through the smoke,” Inslee said at the press conference.  

“We understand what it’s doing to our communities,” he continued. “But fundamentally, we are leaders and we are three states and one province who can see through the smoke.” 

For more details about the agreement and hear more from the governors, please click here for the full story.

Uber to roll out the robotaxis 

Uber has taken a major step toward the eventual deployment of electric robot taxis through its new 10-year partnership with Boston-based vehicle manufacturer Motional.

The announcement marks the first such national-scale collaboration between a
ride-hailing provider and an autonomous vehicle company — and it could eventually lead to robot cars dropping off passengers and delivering packages across the U.S. 

The arrangement that aids both parties: Motional will provide Uber with a fleet of self-driving taxis. In return, Uber will provide Motional with both millions of potential customers and the data generated from their ride and delivery requests, according to a joint press release issued on Thursday.    

  • “This agreement will be instrumental to the wide scale adoption of robotaxis,” Motional president and CEO Karl Iagnemma said. 
  • “Motional now has unparalleled access to millions of riders and a roadmap to scale significantly over the next 10 years,” Iagnemma added. 

Following the pilot: It’s not the two companies’ first collaboration. A Motional pilot project began conducting UberEats deliveries in California. 

Reverse engineering: Unlike other would-be autonomous vehicle providers — like Tesla — Motional uses specially modified Hyundai IONIQ 5 EVs.   

These cars were the product of a direct collaboration between Motional and the South Korean automaker.  

  • “The Hyundai Motor Group and Motional teams spent months collaborating on sensor placement,” Motional said in a press release. 
  • Hyundai and Motional engineers decided on a “location for every ‘eye’ that gives our vehicles 360-degree perception, as well as the redundant coverage needed for safe operation in a wide range of driving environments.”

Motional also in August signed a partnership with main Uber rival Lyft to pilot-test company taxis in Las Vegas in preparation for a 2023 nationwide rollout, according to Motional. 

How well will they drive? Motional bills its cars as being at Level 4 on the Society of Automotive Engineers’ 5-point scale of self-driving. 

  • That is a level of automation that under most circumstances won’t require human intervention, according to a report from electric design company Synopsys. 
  • Keeping passengers safe currently involves restricting these vehicles to lower-risk driving environments — particularly urban areas with speed limits below 30 miles per hour. 

Checking in on competition: Because of these constraints, most Level 4 projects are similarly geared toward robotaxis — and the race is healing up, according to Synopsys. 

In August, for example, Google parent-company Alphabet announced that its self-driving subsidiary Waymo would begin allowing select users in Phoenix to order rides from “rider only” driverless vehicles, according to TechCrunch.

US wind, solar tripled over past decade: analysis

The United States generated three times as much renewable electricity from the sun and wind last year in comparison to 2012, a new analysis has found.  

A considerable jump: Seven states alone now produce enough electricity from sun, wind and geothermal sources to cover half of their consumption, according to an energy dashboard published on Thursday.  

Just five years earlier, none of these states — South Dakota, Iowa, North Dakota, Kansas, Wyoming, Oklahoma and New Mexico — had achieved this level of renewable energy progress. 

Building a cleaner future: Boosts in clean energy production “set the stage for other technologies — like electric cars and heat pumps powered by renewable energy — to replace dirty and outdated ones,” Johanna Neumann, of the Environment America Research & Policy Center, said in a statement.   

“With renewables on the rise, we’re on our way to building a cleaner, healthier future,” added Neumann, whose organization released the dashboard with the Frontier Group. 

Optimistic findings: The new dashboard highlighted dramatic progress from the past decade in areas like wind, solar, electric vehicles, charging and battery storage:  

  • The U.S. produced enough wind energy to power 35 million homes in 2021 — or 2.7 times as much wind energy as in 2012.  
  • The country also generated enough solar energy that year to power 15 million homes — or 15 times as much solar energy as in 2012.  
  • Americans purchased nearly 647,000 plug-in electric cars in 2021 — a nearly 13-fold increase from 2012. 
  • Chargers to accompany those vehicles surpassed 120,000 nationwide — a nearly 20-fold increase from 2012. 
  • Total battery storage has climbed to 4.7 gigawatts, or 32 times as much as in 2012.  

Which states showed the most growth? California, Texas and Florida exhibited the most growth in solar power and battery storage from 2012 to 2021, while Texas, Oklahoma and Iowa ranked highest for wind power growth, per the dashboard. 

To see more key findings from the dashboard, please click here for the full story.

Political structures determine green success: study

Political factors can play a key role in whether a government is able to successfully transition off fossil fuels, a new study from the University at California Berkeley has found.  

The transition off fossil fuels requires a government to be able to absorb high upfront costs in exchange for much lower costs later on, according to the paper in Science. 

By looking at past energy shocks like the 1970s oil crisis, the researchers found that successful initiatives — like those in Northern Europe — followed one or both of the following political strategies:

  • Such countries either blunted the impact of the short-term costs with payments or rebates to consumers and industry.
  • Others insulated policymakers from the ire of consumers and industry unhappy with higher prices.

First mover advantage: Countries with such political structures “will be early public investors in these very costly technologies that we need for decarbonization, such as hydrogen fuel cells and carbon removal technologies,” lead author Jonas Meckling said in a statement. 

That is tough news for the U.S., which doesn’t have the kind of political structure that allows either strategy to be carried out easily. 

Silver lining: However, the U.S. system is extremely responsive to market demand and changes in price — which sets the country up to rapidly scale technologies that other countries help get off the ground. 

“Once these new technologies become cost competitive in the market, then countries like the U.S. can respond relatively rapidly because they are so sensitive to price signals,” Meckling added. 

Thursday Threats

Why warming winters mean more water pollution, social media could help solve pollution threats and the cost of climate in action is going up. 

Less ice, more water pollution: study

  • Warming winters are driving increasing quantities of nutrient pollution into U.S. waterways, a new study in Environmental Research Letters has found. The higher temperatures both keep fertilizers from freezing in place and raise the frequency of rains that wash them into creeks and rivers, according to the study. 

Social media engagement pushes government action, reduces pollution: study 

  • Social media activism can improve government responses to pollution incidents, a study from the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute found. Public appeals — posted on the social media site Weibo — reduced violations at Chinese industrial plants by more than 60 percent, per the study. See the full Hill story to read more.   

Pay a lot now or even more later: IMF 

  • The world economy is undergoing a “fundamental shift” from relative stability to more dramatic instability, International Monetary Fund (IMF) managing director Kristalina Georgieva said on Thursday, as reported by our colleague Jared Gans. A biennial IMF report published this also warned that while the shift to clean energy would be expensive, waiting would only raise costs, The Guardian reported.  

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

Tags Climate change Electric vehicles Gavin Newsom Hurricane Ian Jay Inslee Lyft solar industry Uber wind energy

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