Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — White House says no ‘imminent’ threat of nuclear war

President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin
UPI

Despite President Biden’s warning of a nuclear “armageddon,” there is no new intelligence that suggests imminent Russian plans to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, our colleague Brett Samuels reports.

Biden had warned on Thursday that there was no way for a limited “tactical” use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine not to spiral out of control.

Even a limited nuclear exchange would risk spreading toxic and light-blocking clouds of dust far beyond the blast zone — leading to declines in crop yields and possibly widespread starvation.

“We have not faced the prospect of armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis,” Biden said Thursday, citing the 1962 standoff with the Soviet Union. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin is “not joking when he talks about potential use of tactical nuclear weapons or biological or chemical weapons because his military is, you might say, significantly underperforming,” Biden added.  

Last month, Putin warned Western governments — whom he accused of “nuclear blackmail” — that “our country also has various means of destruction, and some components are more modern than those of the NATO countries,” Samuels reported. 

Putin said that Russian nuclear weapons could be used to defend its territory — including four provinces of Eastern Ukraine that it has moved to annex.

The White House on Friday painted Biden’s remarks as a statement about Putin’s “irresponsible rhetoric,” not an actual looming threat of nuclear war.

But the higher nuclear tension ratchets, the higher the risk of a mistake. In the Cuban Missile Crisis, a Russian missile submarine — believing erroneously that their vessel were under attack by the U.S. — came within a single vote of launching their nuclear missiles. 

Florida’s next challenge: Hurricane lawsuits

Florida faces a coming torrent of lawsuits as the state’s relatively low rate of flood insurance collides with the horrific damage caused last week by Hurricane Ian. 

Total destruction: Many Floridians who fled the wind and waves of Hurricane Ian returned to find devastation, The Associated Press reported. 

  • “Think of a snow globe. Pick it up and shake it — that’s what happened,” said  one homeowner on Sanibel Island.
  • The island’s causeway was broken by the storm, severing its connection to the mainland. On land, returnees based surreal scenes like shrimp boats pulling on to mobile home parks and houses splintered and flung into canals.  

High price tag: The storm is estimated to be the most expensive hurricane to strike the U.S. since 1992, The Guardian reported.

And on the level of the individual homeowner, the majority of those losses are likely to be uninsured, according to The Wall Street Journal.

  • Between a third and 40 percent of homeowners in the two most-impacted counties had flood insurance.
  • For the inland counties that absorbed much of the brunt of flooding, that number is closer to just a few out of every 100. 

Financial shock: That raises serious questions over how residents will afford to rebuild. Many will seek to take their insurance companies to court to get the necessary funds, the Journal reported. 

Underestimating risk: One Florida resident, Christine Barrett, told The Associated Press that she has learned a hard lesson about flood insurance, which was not required in her community 5 miles inland.

Nobody in this neighborhood has flood insurance because we are a nonflooding area,” Barrett said. “But we got 14 inches of water in our house.” 

Rising risk: Underinsurance in the face of extreme weather is a rising concern across the country.  

  • “We have experienced catastrophic flood events across the U.S. this year, including in Kentucky and Missouri, where virtually no one had flood insurance,” Mark Friedlander of the Insurance Information Institute told the AP.
  • Friedlander added that only about 4 percent of homeowners have flood insurance, while 90 percent of home disasters involve flooding. 

Wind or water? The storm’s intense damage will require claims adjusters — and, ultimately, civil courts — to determine whether houses were destroyed by water or wind, the Journal reported.

  • If water, the damage isn’t covered unless the homeowner has a specific flood policy. If wind, it generally would be.
  • In many cases, that is complicated by the fact that there is no house left to investigate after the storm has reduced a structure to a concrete slab, according to the Journal. 

Aggressive attorneys: Luckily for homeowners, Florida has some of the nation’s most aggressive lawyers when it comes to suing insurance companies.

  • The state represents just 9 percent of home insurance claims — but nearly 80 percent of lawsuits over those claims.
  • But that litigation has helped make Florida home insurance costs among the highest in the nation. 

Legal risk: Litigation is also contributing to the collapse of Florida insurance companies, Florida International University finance professor Shadi Hamid wrote in The Conversation. 

Toyota EV fix keeps wheels on 

Toyota has fixed an engineering defect that put the wheels on its electric bZ4X SUV at risk of falling off, according to automobile review site Jalopnik.

  • Certain high-torque conditions — such as rapid braking or sharp turns — could generate sufficient force to break the bolts that attach the wheels to the axle.
  • The problem had forced the Japanese carmaker to recall the bZ4X just after its June launch, CNN reported. 

The news that the bZ4X is back on the road is one of three big announcements this week from Japanese automakers about the future of their electric vehicles (EVs).

Solution: Toyota’s fix involves adding thin, metal washers to the space between wheel and bolt, among other changes, according to Automotive News.

The root cause of the mishap was Toyota engineers failing to account for features that distinguish their electric-powered models, Automotive News noted.

For example, an electric drive-train generates more torque than an equivalent gasoline or diesel engine, and heavy batteries mean more stress on wheels.

AUTOMAKERS MAKE THEIR EV MOVE

Honda announced it would begin selling the Prologue — the new electric crossover SUV it is building in collaboration with General Motors — in the U.S. by 2024.

Too little too late? Like fellow Japanese carmaker Toyota, Honda has struggled with going electric — and its 2024 release date may come too late for the carmaker to grab significant American market share, Electrek reported.

  • The risk of a shut-out grows especially large by 2026 — the year Honda anticipates having its own independently produced cars.
  • This slow timetable means Honda is “basically giving up on the North American market,” according to Electrek. 

Nissan doubles down: The Nissan Leaf — a stalwart of the lower-end EV market, with nearly 13 years of continuous production — is “here to stay,” Nissan EV sales marketing director Aditya Jairaj said at an event this week, according to tech news site CNET.

  • Jairaj addressed rumors that the company was shutting down the Leaf line — which at less than $30,000 is one of the cheapest new EVs around.
  • But the future Leaf may be a light SUV — bearing little resemblance hatchback sedan that currently defines the brand.
  • A move to SUVs would allow Nissan to meet a consumer market increasingly clamoring for light trucks — like its upcoming Ariya electric crossover.

Ford announces rising prices: In other electric light truck news, Ford Motor Company announced this week that supply cost overruns would force it to raise prices by $5,000 on its popular F-150 Lightning electric truck, CNBC reported. 

That means customers will now pay $52,000 to $97,000, plus taxes and delivery charges. It’s the American carmaker’s second such price hike in about a month.

Inequality worsens wildfire health risks for kids: study

Children with lower-income, less-educated or minority families are far less likely to live in a household with a wildfire preparedness plan, a new study has found. 

These disparities worsen the already glaring inequalities of wildfire recovery, according to a paper presented on Friday to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

  • “Previous studies have shown that minority and low socioeconomic populations are disproportionately affected during disasters,” pediatric medicine professor Natasha Gill of the University of Southern California said in a statement.
  • By educating “families about how to prepare their household for wildfire disasters, we can promote resilience and improve health outcomes during these unpredictable events,” Gill added. 

One big exception: Families with a child with breathing problems were far more likely to have a wildfire preparedness plan, Gill found. 

That could be a sign that people are more likely to be prepared if the crisis feels directly relevant to their lives, rather than abstract. 

Follow-up Friday

Checking in on stories from earlier in the week. 

A long tail for an impacted asteroid

  • NASA’s deep-space attempt to deflect the asteroid Dimorphos by ramming it with a aimed to develop ways to defend the earth from extraterrestrial threats. Dimorphos is now followed by a 6,000-mile long debris trail from the impact, the Los Angeles Times reported. Scientists expect the trail to disperse among the background dust of the solar system. 

A new frontier for utility-scale renewables: batteries

  • We reported on a solar-powered Florida community which rode out Hurricane Ian relatively unscathed. Across the country, an Oregon solar and wind plant is the nation’s first utility-scale renewable development to also incorporate battery storage, Electrek reported. Such a system allows energy to be saved during peak supply and dispersed during peak demand. 

Texas’s BlackRock ban sparks legal challenge

  • Asset manager BlackRock has been pushing back on Securities and Exchange Commission climate disclosure rules, which it says are too onerous. BlackRock is also engaged in an escalating legal battle with conservative states like Texas, which seek to bar the $8.5 trillion asset manager over accusations that it is boycotting fossil fuels, Reuters reported. The company remains a major fossil fuel investor, despite some climate rhetoric.

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

Tags Biden Electric vehicles Ford honda Hurricane Ian Nuclear threats nuclear war nuclear weapons President Biden Russian war in Ukraine toyota Vladimir Putin Vladimir Putin wildfires

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