Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Elephants, tigers avoid extinction living near humans


Some of Asia’s biggest animals are flouting 12,000 years of extinction trends and flourishing in areas near humans, a new study has found. 

Four species — tigers, Asian elephants, wild boars and clouded leopards — are increasing their populations in areas that house human infrastructure, according to the study, published on Friday in Science Advances.  

“Under the right conditions, some large animals can live nearby humans and avoid extinction,” lead author Zachary Amir, a PhD candidate at Australia’s University of Queensland, said in a statement.  

This notion challenges a longstanding conservation narrative that humans and large animals are incompatible, Amir noted.

The disproportionate loss of big animals is usually the worst near human populations due to hunting activity, according to the author.

But while scouring paleontological records and present-day data for Asia’s 14 largest species, the researchers observed that this was not the case for tigers, elephants, wild boars and clouded leopards.  

“This may be the outcome of tougher anti-poaching efforts in the national parks that are closer to human settlements and are more frequently visited by tourists,” Amir said.

While deforestation was still impacting these species, he said if large animals are not being hunted they can live in relatively small habitats near humans.

Singapore, for example, has been able to re-wild sambar deer and wild boars after eliminating poaching, he explained.  

“If we replicate those protection efforts in larger forests and other counties, we may see positive impacts right around the world,” Amir said. 

“But before this can happen, humans need to get our act together and limit poaching,” he added.

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

Today we’ll start in the Pacific Northwest, where wildfire smoke has made the air unbreathable. Plus: Why electric vehicles are catching fire after Hurricane Ian, and a new look at the surge in food insufficiency.

Amid smoky skies, end of wildfire season on horizon

Ash-filled smoke has been “choking the Puget Sound” this week, but incoming rains may be a sign that the end of wildfire season is near, Fox13 reported on Friday.  

A struggle to breathe: “We ranked among the worst in the world in air quality yesterday, but things are drastically improving this morning,” anchor Bill Wixey of “Good Day Seattle” told Fox13 viewers Friday morning.

  • Residents interviewed by the station described symptoms such as watery eyes, runny noses, nausea and lightheadedness.
  • “I feel like I just want to go to sleep — I just want to pass out,” one resident said.

The worst air quality in the world? That’s right. Thursday was the second day in a row that Seattle had the worst air quality on the planet, trumping cities like Beijing and Delhi, The Washington Post reported.

  • The city’s air quality index surged to levels defined as “very unhealthy” for all groups.
  • People wore masks to protect shield themselves from particle inhalation, while buildings were invisible a block away. 

Why was Seattle so polluted? The smoky skies stemmed from a combination of factors: wildfires blazing in the Cascade Mountains, as well as weeks of dry and hot weather, according to the Post.

Washington has received only minimal precipitation since June, and 56 percent of the state remains in drought, the Post reported, citing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Wide-ranging impacts: Portland and other cities in the Pacific Northwest were also experiencing poor air quality, The Guardian reported.

  • In Oregon, smoke from several different fires was being held close to the ground on Thursday by a weather system.
  • Ten fires were burning within a few hours’ drive of Portland, where residents were donning N95 masks.  

The smoke isn’t gone just yet: Although forecasted rains had begun to fall on Friday, officials in Oregon advised the region’s residents to continue taking measures to protect themselves, Oregon Live reported.

  • They predicted that the rains wouldn’t wash away all the smoke.
  • Some schools delayed openings due to the pollution, while others kept students indoors and shut the windows. Many sporting activities were canceled.

Hurricane Ian leaves behind risk of burning EVs

Saltwater damage from Hurricane Ian has left South Florida with a new danger: electric vehicles (EVs) that spontaneously combust.

Rising sea, rising problem: The spate of car fires is a sign of a grim milestone, Eric Fredericson of recycling nonprofit Call2Recycle told ABC.

  • Ian was the first major hurricane to crash into a region with widespread EV adoption, Fredericson said.
  • “We’re seeing these fires in these incidents more than we have with any of the other storms,” he said. 

Where are manufacturers? In his letter to Tesla, fire marshal Patronis demanded the EV manufacturer take a more proactive role in addressing the fire risk.

  • “The unfortunate reality is that there is a population of vehicles that could spontaneously combust, putting our first responders at risk,” he said.
  • Meanwhile, “the manufacturers are nowhere to be found.” 

Tesla did not provide a response by press time.

Elon Musk has long argued that Tesla’s buzzy brand name has led media to exaggerate the danger of EV fires — which while more severe than gas or hybrid fires, are far less frequent, according to InsideEVs. 

Please click here for the full story. 


The percentage of U.S. families who could not afford sufficient food surged after the federal government’s advance Child Tax Credit cash payments expired, a new analysis has found.  

Corroborating past fears: These findings, published on Friday in JAMA Network Open, confirmed fears previously expressed by public health experts.  

Researchers had voiced concerns that ending this pandemic-era benefit could push millions of American families back into poverty and hunger, according to the authors.  

What exactly was the benefit? These monthly cash payments — from July through December 2021 — were a key part of the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan.

  • The payments provided about 92 percent of U.S. households up to $3,000 per child ages 6 to 17 and up to $3,600 per child under 6.
  • Half of the credit amount was distributed ahead of time as advance monthly payments.   

What did the authors find? From January to July of this year, food insufficiency increased by about 25 percent among families with children, according to the study.  

  • “This significant increase in food insufficiency among families with children is particularly concerning for child health equity,” lead author Allison Bovell-Ammon, of Children’s HealthWatch at Boston University School of Public Health, said in a statement.
  • “Even brief periods of deprivation during childhood can have lasting impacts on a child,” she added.  

Precedent for this outcome: Bovell-Ammon’s analysis follows up on a previous Boston University investigation — published in JAMA Network Open in January — indicating that the expansion of the Child Tax Credit program reduced food insufficiency by 26 percent in 2021.  

Worsening inequities: Not only did the expiration of the monthly payments increase food insufficiency, but it also exacerbated the racial and economic inequities, according to the Friday study.

  • Low-income households endured the biggest surges in food insufficiency after the advance payments ended.
  • Single-adult, non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic households also encountered greater food insufficiency after losing their payments.    

To read more details from the analysis, please click here for the full story.

More municipalities consider sewage for water 

With suburban expansion threatening drinking water supplies, two of America’s fastest-growing regions are turning to a once-taboo source: treated wastewater. 

Different forms of “potable reuse” — in which treated sewage is in some form reused as drinking water — have increased by a factor of four, The New York Times reports.

  • “Indirect potable reuse,” practiced nationwide for decades, involves recharging an aquifer with treated wastewater before deploying it into a municipal system. 
  • “Direct potable reuse,” a technique thus far limited to small-scale initiatives, involves distributing purified wastewater straight from treatment plants to people’s homes.  

Meeting new needs: Colorado and Virginia have launched different types of potable reuse pilot projects to face their respective regional crises. 

The projects represent a new phase in a national campaign to diversify municipal water supplies in the face of rising demand and shrinking supply. 

Reusing sewage: In November, Colorado could become the first state to regulate the direct reuse of treated sewage in potable drinking water, The Associated Press reported.

Last week, Colorado’s water quality agency gave a preliminary but unanimous approval to a proposal to regulate the practice. 

“Having well-developed regulations … helps ensure projects are safe and that project proponents know what will be required of them,” water engineer Laura Belanger of non-profit Western Resource Advocates told the AP. 

Expanding the frontier: Colorado has long experimented with recycling and drinking wastewater, largely through systems based on indirect potable reuse.  

But the new state proposal would allow municipalities like Castle Rock to recycle water directly — something that has only been possible in pilot projects before, the AP noted.

  • Direct use would avoid substantial losses from evaporation — a serious concern for municipalities like Castle Rock, which are dependent on declining groundwater.
  • As “it becomes more and more difficult to acquire new water … the more we can take advantage of water we already have, the better for all of us,” said Greg Baker of the Aurora, Colo. water utility.


In southeastern Virginia, officials are considering a large-scale water recycling push to avert a long-term crisis caused by the over-pumping of dwindling underground water supplies, The New York Times reported.

Pumping it back: Every day, the Hampton Roads region — near where Chesapeake Bay opens into the Atlantic — now pumps 1 million gallons of filtered and treated sewage into the Potomac Aquifer, according to the Times.

  • This isn’t new territory for Virginia, which hosted the country’s first indirect potable reuse system in 1978, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. 
  • But the scale of the project — which could ultimately store 100 million gallons a day — and its location in the comparatively rainy East represent how water stress is becoming a national issue.

A structural issue: The decline of the Potomac Aquifer is a problem for regions beyond the need for drinking water, according to the Times.

  • The loss of pressure from pumping in the aquifer — analogous to a balloon losing air — is leading to sinkholes and unstable terrain.
  • It’s also creating space for rising seas to fill, which risks polluting remaining water supplies. 

“It is now necessary for us to consider options that would, in previous generations, be considered unthinkable,” Michael Kiparsky of the University of California, Berkeley, told the Times.

Follow-up Friday

In which we revisit some of the issues we’ve covered this week.  

Maine deer contaminated by ‘forever chemicals’

More storms rise in Atlantic, Pacific

Winter rains face fire-ridden Pacific Northwest

Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section for more stories. And explore more newsletters here. We’ll see you next week.

Tags air quality Electric vehicles endangered species extinction food insecurity Hurricane Ian Oregon Pacific North West Seattle water resources wildfires

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