Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Green group finds new home on sinking flood plain 

AP Photo/Steve Helber
A non-permeable cover tops Coal Ash Basin B along the banks of the Elizabeth River in Chesapeake, Va., Wednesday, July 6, 2016.

An environmental nonprofit is about to test the waters in a Virginia tidal estuary — by building its new headquarters on a flood plain that is destined to sink, The Washington Post reported.  

The Elizabeth River Project’s $8.1 million headquarters will inevitably be submerged as tides increase in the coming decades, and staff members are prepared to demolish the building when the time comes, according to the Post.  

But the group based in Norfolk, Va. — established 25 years ago to revive the waterway — is planning to showcase adaptation strategies for the time being, creating what the Post described as “a sort of resilience theme park.” 

“It’s intended to show you how to work and play and live with this rising sea level,” Marjorie Mayfield Jackson, co-founder of the Elizabeth River Project, told the Post.  

“And once it’s no longer functioning, we take down the building and give it back to nature, give it back to the river,” she said.  

The 6,500-square-foot laboratory, which will be raised 11 feet, will generate its electricity from solar panels and will house a green roof and rain garden to collect water for flushing toilets, the Post reported.  

A southern-facing green wall will decrease the need for cooling and heating — another solution that the organization hopes will be replicable by local homeowners and developers, according to the Post.  

While residents are “aware of the risks,” they have no intention of leaving the area, Sam Bowling, who led the building’s design, told the Post.  

“We want to show others that there might just be a better way to live and work in urban areas on the coast, despite rising seas,” he added. 

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. I’m Sharon Udasin. Send us tips and feedback. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

Today we’ll start in the Continental Divide, where President Biden declared a new national monument at Camp Hale. Then we’ll see how OPEC is justifying its decision to slash oil production.

Plus: Scientists say “forever chemicals” may be polluting tens of thousands of sites across the U.S.  

Biden declares national monument at Camp Hale 

President Biden on Wednesday afternoon declared Camp Hale, Colo., a national monument — the first such designation in his presidency, our colleague Zack Budryk reported for The Hill

What’s Camp Hale? This was a Colorado training site for the Army’s 10th Mountain Division during World War II. 

  • The group of soldiers were trained on the area’s mountain terrain and then fought against the Axis powers in the Italian Alps.  
  • The site is also on the ancestral homeland of the native Ute tribes.  

Courage and climate: “Imagine the courage, the daring and the genuine sacrifice they all made,” Biden said at a signing ceremony on site, in the presence of two veterans from the division.  

Biden also used the designation to tout the Inflation Reduction Act and the bipartisan infrastructure law, stressing that these bills constitute “the largest investment in climate ever, in the history of the world,” Budryk reported.  

Preserving and protecting: The monument will serve to honor “veterans, Indigenous people, and their legacy by protecting this Colorado landscape, while supporting jobs and America’s outdoor recreation economy,” a White House fact sheet states.  

In addition to protecting Camp Hale, the Biden administration will also propose a ban on new mining on about 225,000 acres in Colorado’s Thompson Divide area for
20 years, according to the fact sheet.  

Push from Colorado Democrats: President Biden’s arrival to Camp Hale on Wednesday occurred following a push from Colorado Democrats that he preserve the legacy of these landscapes, as we previously reported.  

Presidential powers for public spaces: The politicians — Rep. Joe Neguse (D),
Sens. Michael Bennet (D) and John Hickenlooper (D) and Gov. Jared Polis (D) — asked Biden in August to protect the public spaces included in the Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy Act, which had stalled in Congress.  

  • They requested that he declare Camp Hale a national monument by means of the Antiquities Act. 
  • The politicians also urged him to preserve the Thompson Divide through a Federal Lands Policy and Management Act mineral withdrawal, which would ban new oil and gas leasing, as well as mining, in the region. 

OPEC cuts forecasts for global economic growth  

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) on Wednesday decreased its projections for global economic growth and crude oil demand, The Wall Street Journal reported. 

These forecasts served to justify the cartel’s recent decision to reduce oil production by 2 million barrels a day, according to the Journal.  

Considerable cuts: The oil-producing group — led by Saudi Arabia — reduced global gross domestic product forecasts from 3.1 percent to 2.7 percent for 2022 and from 3.1 percent to 2.5 percent for 2023, the Journal reported. 

  • The cartel cited inflation, escalating interest rates and geopolitical tensions as factors behind the decision.  
  • OPEC also reduced its oil-demand growth projections by 460,000 barrels a day to 2.64 million barrels a day for 2022 — and by 360,000 barrels a day to
    2.34 million barrels a day for 2023. 

Justifying a disputed decision: These downsized projections follow a contentious declaration last week from OPEC+ — a coalition of 13 OPEC members and 11 non-members, including Russia — regarding reductions in oil production, as we previously reported.  

That decision sparked worldwide criticism, particularly from the Biden administration, which had tried to convince Saudi Arabia to ramp up supplies during a controversial July visit to the kingdom.  

What might the U.S. do? A proposal to take on the OPEC+ group is gaining momentum in Congress, after Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) floated using legislation known as “NOPEC,” our colleagues Rachel Frazin and Zack Budryk reported for The Hill. 

  • NOPEC would enable the Justice Department to bring lawsuits against OPEC+ nations and their state-owned oil companies under U.S. antitrust laws. 
  • Some lawmakers from both parties have taken one step further, arguing that the Saudi-led decision to cut production is reason enough to shift relations with Riyadh.  

Consequences, but unclear what: In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Tuesday, President Biden said that there would be “consequences” for Saudi Arabia.  

While he did not elaborate on further details, Biden told Tapper that he believed it was time to “rethink” Washington’s relationship with Riyadh. 

PFAS may be polluting 57K US sites, study finds

Tens of thousands of sites across the U.S. may be polluted with toxic forever chemicals, a team of scientists argued in a study released on Wednesday.  

Guilty until proven innocent: In the absence of information proving otherwise, the researchers said that contamination from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) should be presumed at 57,412 locations around the country.  

  • The areas in question include sites that discharge jet fuel firefighting foam, according to the study, published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters. 
  • Also involved are certain industrial facilities and places where waste contains these cancer-linked chemicals.  

“PFAS contamination at these locations is very likely,” senior author Alissa Cordner, co-director of the PFAS Project Lab at Northeastern University, said in a statement. 

What are PFAS again? Known for their propensity to linger in the human body and in the environment, PFAS are linked to many illnesses, including testicular cancer, thyroid disease and kidney cancer.  

  • These so-called forever chemicals are notorious for their presence in aqueous film forming foam — the product used to fight jet fuel fires at military bases and airports.  
  • However, they are also found in industrial discharge and in a variety of household products.  

Identifying possible pollution: The researchers — led by the PFAS Project Lab at Northeastern University — developed a “presumptive contamination” model that aggregates high-quality, publicly available data into a single map.  

Their model, the authors explained, could be a critical tool to governments, industries and communities looking to identify potential exposure sources.  

What did they find? Among the 57,412 presumptive PFAS contamination sites, the authors identified:

  • 49,145 industrial facilities
  • 4,255 wastewater treatment plants
  • 3,493 current or former military sites
  • 519 major airports. 

The presumptive contamination sites can be viewed on an interactive map published by the PFAS Project Lab.  

This may just be scratching the surface: “While it sounds scary that there are over 57,000 presumptive contamination sites, this is almost certainly a large underestimation,” co-author Phil Brown, director of Northeastern University’s Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute, said in a statement.  

“The scope of PFAS contamination is immense, and communities impacted by this contamination deserve swift regulatory action,” Brown added. 

To read more about the study and how the model’s findings compare to known contamination data, please click here for the full story.  

Scientists make battery with 10-minute charge time 

Researchers have engineered a mechanism that could reduce electric vehicle (EV) battery charge time to just 10 minutes, Penn State University announced on Wednesday. 

How did they do that? Their method, revealed in a new Nature study, relies on internal temperature regulation within the battery, according to lead author Chao-Yang Wang. 

  • Batteries run most efficiently when they’re hot, but not too hot. 
  • They’ve typically relied on bulky external heating and cooling mechanisms, which are slow to respond and waste energy.   

Inside-out: Wang, a Penn State professor of mechanical engineering, worked with his team to regulate temperature from inside the battery.  

  • They created a new structure that adds ultrathin nickel foil as a fourth component, in addition to the anode, electrolyte and cathode. 
  • The nickel foil acts as a stimulus and self-regulates the battery’s temperature and reactivity — enabling speedy charging for almost any EV battery, Wang explained.  

Meeting demand: “The need for smaller, faster-charging batteries is greater than ever,” Wang said in a statement.  

“There are simply not enough batteries and critical raw materials, especially those produced domestically, to meet anticipated demand,” he added. 

Wildlife Wednesday

Birds decline everywhere but in wetlands, scientists examine the failures of the Endangered Species Act and Wildlife Photographer of the Year provides a window into bee life.  

Birds decline in all habitats, except wetlands: report 

  • Bird populations are plunging in every U.S. habitat aside from wetlands, according to Cornell University’s 2022 State of the Birds Report. Their ability to thrive in wetlands is due to consistent investments from landowners, hunters, government agencies and corporations to protect these areas, the report said.  

Scientists outline reasons why the Endangered Species Act has failed 

  • Most species are not getting the protection they need until their populations have dwindled to dangerous lows, ecologists at Columbia University argued in a PLOS One study. Out of the more than 1,000 species that have been listed by the Endangered Species Act, only 54 have recovered, the study found.   

UK’s Natural History Museum declares Wildlife Photographer of the Year 

  • American photographer Karine Aigner has been crowned Wildlife Photographer of the Year for depicting “a buzzing ball of bees as the males swamp the solitary female,” the U.K.’s Natural History Museum declared. “The image captures the intense drama unfolding just centimeters above the ground,” a statement from the museum said. 

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


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