Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Half of global reefs may be unsuitable by 2035 

The Associated Press/J. Sumerling

If climate change persists unabated, half of the world’s coral reef ecosystems will permanently face unsuitable conditions by 2035, a new study has found. 

While the ability of ecosystems to adapt to environmental changes depends on the specific types of stressors they encounter, coral reefs are particularly sensitive to unsuitable conditions, according to the study published Tuesday in PLOS Biology. 

Researchers the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa analyzed global projections through the year 2100 for five environmental stressors: sea surface temperature, ocean acidification, tropical storm, land use and human population growth.  

When considering just a single environmental stressor under a business-as-usual scenario, they anticipated that environmental conditions would become unsuitable for the world’s remaining coral reefs in 2050. 

But when accounting for multiple stressors at once, the scientists saw that this date drops to 2035.  

By 2055, they projected that 99 percent of the world’s coral reefs would be facing unsuitable conditions based on at least one of the five stressors. And by 2100, the scientists anticipated that 93 percent of global reefs would be under threat from two or more stressors. 

“We know that corals are vulnerable to increasing sea surface temperatures and marine heatwaves due to climate change,” study co-author Erik Franklin, an associate research Professor at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, said in a statement.  

But examining the human-induced impacts and numerous other stressors that affect coral reefs can help scientists gain a better sense as to the overall risks to these ecosystems, according to Franklin.  

“This has great implications for our local Hawaiian reefs that are key to local biodiversity, culture, fisheries and tourism,” Franklin added. 

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. We’re Sharon Udasin and Saul Elbein. Send us tips and feedback. Subscribe here.

Today we’ll begin in the Eastern Mediterranean, where Israel and Lebanon have agreed to the terms of a U.S.-brokered gas extraction deal. Then we’ll see the results of a poll that asked voters how they feel about chemical regulation.

Plus: A look at California’s wildfire season and the potential to extend to the end of the year.

US facilitates Israel-Lebanon gas deal 

The Biden administration has successfully facilitated a deal between Israel and Lebanon that will enable gas extraction from a disputed part of the Mediterranean Sea — paving the way for potential export to Europe.   

Amos Hochstein, the State Department’s senior adviser for energy security, brokered the deal over the past year, with the goal of satisfying the warring neighbors’ economic and security needs, our colleague Laura Kelly reported for The Hill.   

Israel focuses on stability, security: Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Tuesday confirmed that Israel and Lebanon had “reached a historic agreement.” 

  • “Tomorrow I will assemble the political-security cabinet followed by a government meeting. The draft agreement fully complies with the principles presented by Israel in the security and economic fields,” he tweeted. 
  • “This is a historic achievement that will strengthen Israel’s security, bring billions into Israel’s economy and ensure stability on the northern border.” 

And Lebanon? The information office of Lebanese President Michel Aoun tweeted earlier on Tuesday that the “final version” of the agreement “satisfies Lebanon, meets its demands and preserves its right to its natural wealth,” Kelly reported.  

The leaders of both countries indicated that they still require the approval of their governments before officially signing the deal, which could occur later this month, according to The Wall Street Journal.  

What’s in the deal? The agreement would give Israel full control over its Karish gas field, as we previously reported.  

Lebanon would gain authority over the Qana gas field — located farther north — but Israel would maintain a portion of the gas situated within this territory.   

Delineating development: While further details of the final deal have yet to be released to the public, its text is expected to be similar to Hochstein’s previous drafts, The Jerusalem Post reported.  

  • The draft indicated that Lebanon could develop the entire Kana field, while Israel would receive royalties for the portion of Kana that falls within its waters. 
     
  • Meanwhile, Energean, the Greek company licensed to withdraw gas from Karish, received approval from Israel to begin pipeline tests on Sunday.

What does this mean for Europe? Even if the deal is signed soon, it won’t bring a huge supply of gas into the continent immediately, energy analysts told the Journal.  

  • Neither Israel nor Egypt — which like Israel, already has fields in the Mediterranean — have much gas to spare.  
  • In addition, no route yet exists that can carry large amounts of gas to Europe.  
  • However, a small surplus of gas from Israel could be there next winter via Egypt’s liquefied natural gas facilities, potentially reducing gas prices for parts of Southern Europe. 

Voters want more protections from toxic chemicals

Most American voters surveyed said that they want more government and industry protection from toxic chemicals, a new poll has found. 

And they’re willing to pay: Not only do the 1,200 respondents overwhelmingly want assurances that consumer products are free from harmful chemicals, but they are also willing to pay more for this privilege, according to the survey.  

Widespread consensus: In response to the poll — commissioned by the University of California, San Francisco’s Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment — 92 percent of voters said that the government should ensure products are safe before they reach the market.  

  • “People assume that what they buy is safe and that almost always isn’t the case,” Tracey Woodruff, director of the UCSF Reproductive Health program, said in a statement. 
  • “The good news is this survey reveals overwhelming support for the government to do a better job of protecting people from harmful chemicals,” Woodruff added. 

What were some other findings? About 93 percent of respondents agreed and
62 percent strongly agreed that companies should do a better job of removing harmful chemicals from consumer products, according to the poll. 

  • 88 percent agreed that companies should do a better job eliminating plastic and plastic packaging from these items.
  • 76 percent of respondents expressed concern about the impact chemicals and plastics have on climate change.
  • 54 percent said that chemical regulations are not strong enough.

How does industry respond? Chris Jahn, president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council — which represents major U.S. chemical companies — stressed that “chemicals in commerce are subject to some of the most stringent federal laws and regulations in the world.” 

  • “Product safety should be a shared objective of all stakeholders,” Jahn said in an emailed statement. 
  • Alleging that “some activists will continue to invest in misconstruing facts and misguiding the public,” Jahn added that the chemical sector “is invested in progress and continuous improvement.” 

To read more details uncovered in the survey, please click here for the full story.

Southern California is center of end-of-year fire risk 

Southern California faces a higher than normal possibility of destructive wildfires heading into December, forecasting experts from the federal government told Equilibrium.

That makes the region a rare outlier in what has been an unusually mild fire season — at least by the standards set in the past decade, Bureau of Land Management fire meteorologist Nicholas Nauslar told Equilibrium.

  • While the number of acres burned this year has been higher than the 10-year average, most of the burned areas were either in remote forests in the Alaskan interior or transient grass fires on the prairie. 
  • The sort of horrifying canopy fires — in forests burned with such intensity that they created their own weather — were rarer this year than in the brutal fire seasons of 2018, 2020 or 2021. 

Why was this year light? For a severe wildfire to take place, fuel potential and fire weather conditions have to coincide, Nauslar said.

  • Fire potential is the readiness of the land to burn, and it depends on a combination of factors like heat and drought, which dry out trees and shrubs and turn them to firewood. 
  • Fire weather involves conditions like lightning and high winds that turn ready fuel into a conflagration and keep it going.

A dreaded overlap: Each factor is one of the circles in a Venn diagram — when they overlap, they heighten the chance of a destructive fire.   

  • Even if fuels are dry, it takes “critical fire weather patterns to realize that potential,” Nauslar said.  
  • “And what we didn’t have this year was alignment of the potential with critical fire weather conditions very often,” he added. 

Dodging a bullet: Several times this summer, those conditions did correspond over parts of the West — but rain came before a spark did, according to Nauslar.

  • “No one’s ever going know that, you know, for a week to two-week period some part of western Colorado had all-time records for fuel dryness,” he said. 
  • “But then, you know, the weather conditions didn’t materialize to realize that potential,” Nauslar added.

Closing the window: Another saving grace this year were rains across the Rockies and Pacific Northwest in late spring and early summer.

  • These rainfalls weren’t enough to make a substantial difference in the region’s serious long-term drought.  
  • But the additional water on the landscape functioned as a “heat sink” that absorbed heat energy that in drier conditions would have powered fires, Nauslar said.

Having water on the landscape creates a buffer for firefighters, because it adds “that much more time to get to fuels being cured and being available to burn, which shortens that window of fire,” Nauslar said. 

Burn till it snows: It’s a truism of Western wildland firefighting that “if you get a fire in the high country of the Cascades or the Northern Rockies, it’ll be there till the snowfall,” Nauslar said. 

A fire that starts later, therefore, means less chance for it to grow to the kind of monstrous conflagration that characterized the 2020 fire season. 

WHAT ABOUT SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA?

Heavily populated Southern California is the one exception to the near-normal conditions that are supposed to prevail across the West — and will face an elevated fire risk until projected rains this December, Nauslar said.

  • The ongoing drought could combine with hot, dry and powerful Santa Ana winds to create large potential blazes. 
  • The region’s residents are particularly exposed to fire because of the large amount of development in natural fire corridors through former forest and other wildlands. 

Triple-dip: To make things more risky, the Eastern Pacific is experiencing a third straight La Niña event — an atmospheric phenomenon that can increase both drought and send powerful winds toward the southwest. 

Should Californians worry? Not yet. There are currently no fire-promoting weather systems of concern heading toward the West Coast  — and they may not develop at all, Tom Frieders of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency told Equilibrium.

  • Not every La Niña means a more powerful Santa Ana, according to Frieders.  
  • But he said meteorologists are monitoring the area, and concerned citizens can track fire weather updates here

Tuesday Troubles

Health concerns from extreme heat, carbon monoxide leak hits a daycare and humans face distress from robot coworkers.

Extreme heat raises risk of kidney disease 

  • Periods of extreme heat correlated with more people seeking emergency treatment for kidney diseases, according to a new study from the National Kidney Foundation. The rate of people being admitted for ailments from kidney stones to urinary tract infections stayed elevated for a week after the heat wave, the study found. 

Children, daycare staff rushed to hospitals due to carbon monoxide leak 

  • Twenty-seven children and staff members at an Allentown, Pa., daycare were ushered to hospitals on Tuesday due to a mysterious carbon monoxide leak, CNN reported. Firefighters initially responded to a call about an unconscious child, after which they identified “dangerously high levels” of the odorless, colorless gas, according to CNN. 

Robot coworkers distress human employees 

  • People who work alongside robots are likely to face greater incidence of burnout or a less civil workplace — generally due to fears of being replaced by machines, according to a study in Journal of Applied Psychology. That may be because “most people are overestimating the capabilities of robots and underestimating their own capabilities,” Kai Chi Yam of the National University of Singapore said in a statement. 

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

Tags Amos Hochstein California chemicals Coral reefs gas prices Israel Lebanon toxic chemicals US-Israel relations wildfires Yair Lapid
See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more

Video

See all Video