Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Artemis launch aims at ‘sustainable’ lunar base

NASA’s new moon rocket lifts off from Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022. This launch is the first flight test of the Artemis program. (AP Photo/John Raoux )

NASA’s first Artemis mission launched on Wednesday — a landmark trial run for expeditions that the space agency hopes will ultimately establish a “sustainable” base on the moon’s surface. 

Such a base would serve as a preparation hub for future missions to Mars, according to the Artemis mission statement.  

The agency hasn’t specified what sustainability means in the context of establishing a base camp on the inhospitable lunar landscape, Space.com reported in July. 

But for a lunar base, sustainability issues revolve more around the cost of continued supply than on the problems of finding usable resources, Apollo 17 astronaut Jack Schmitt told Space.com. 

“The geological understanding of lunar resources and the technological foundations for sustained settlement of the moon are either in-hand or well understood,” Schmitt said. 

But the major remaining challenge consists of building rockets inexpensive enough to put “economical cost and achievable risk management within reach of private or national entities,” Schmitt added. 

That is still out of reach. The project’s high cost made it an “unsustainable” means of establishing a permanent presence, NASA’s Inspector General Paul Martin told Congress in March. 

With launches costing $4.1 billion each — in addition to extensive and expensive research and development costs — total Artemis costs could ultimately hit $93 billion by the time U.S. astronauts land on the moon, the watchdog audit found. 

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. A friend forward this newsletter to you?

Today we’ll start in Delaware, where Elon Musk is answering to a lawsuit about his colossal paycheck. Then we’ll head to COP27, where Brazil’s new president slammed wealthy countries for failing to fulfill promises. Also at the summit: a new U.N. challenge that uses nature to cool cities.  

Tesla under fire for CEO pay, unreliable cars

Tesla CEO Elon Musk appeared in a Delaware courtroom on Wednesday to defend his record-breaking pay at the electric carmaker.

He was there to answer charges on an often-neglected characteristic of environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing — the G, which focuses on how companies are managed.

Too much for Musk? A lawsuit before the Delaware Court of Chancery charges that Musk received the largest compensation package in history by deceptive means, The New York Times reported.

  • Richard Tornetta, the shareholder, charges that Tesla gave investors “materially misleading” information about a 2018 pay package that included the option to buy $50 billion in shares of Tesla stock.  
  • His suit argues that Tesla’s board — which approved the package — was not independent of Musk.

Money for Mars: The chair of Tesla’s board told the court on Tuesday that Musk told her needed the money for space colonization, CNBC reported.

  • Musk said he needed the money for “inter-planetary travel,” Robyn Denholm, the chair of Tesla’s board, testified on Tuesday. 
  • He received the additional money because his prior compensation package wasn’t enough to keep him at Tesla, she said.

“My view is that Tesla would not be the company it is today without Mr. Musk,” Denholm added, according to the Times.


Tesla’s electric vehicles (EVs) were among the least reliable new cars of any major automaker, Consumer Reports found in a review released on Tuesday.

  • While none of Tesla’s offerings made the bottom-10 list of least reliable cars, the nonprofit magazine ranked Tesla 19 out of 24 automotive brands in terms of reliability. 
  • The Model 3 — the company’s most popular car — had average reliability, with the S, Y and X models falling below average. 

By contrast, Toyota took first place as a brand, and its hybrids were listed among the most reliable cars. 

What’s the difference again? EVs run purely on battery power. Hybrids run on both gas and battery power, trapping energy to recharge their batteries every time the car brakes. 

Electric still coming online: Despite their popularity, EVs in general were “the most problematic,” the review found. 

Hybrids take first: The most reliable vehicles in 2022 were hybrid cars, with hybrid SUVs listed at No. 3, Consumer Reports found.  

No. 1 winner: Consumer Reports pick for top new car was Toyota’s 2023 Corolla Hybrid, with the 2022 model of its venerable Prius line taking No. 4. 

New car on the block: Toyota’s new 2023 Prius debuted on Wednesday with a fuel efficiency of 57 miles to the gallon, CNN reported. 

Thanks to battery and drive-train advances, the car is both two-thirds more powerful than the current model — while achieving slightly better gas mileage.

Lula da Silva: Security Council a climate impediment

The U.N. Security Council is standing in the way of addressing climate change, Brazil’s newly-elected president, Lula da Silva, said on Wednesday.

  • “There’s no explanation why the winners of World War II should be in charge and the directors of the U.N. Security Council,” da Silva said in remarks at the U.N. climate change conference (COP27) on Wednesday, according to The Guardian. 
  • “The world needs new global governance on the climate issue … otherwise time goes by, we die and things do not change,” he added. 

Calling out rich countries: Da Silva also criticized rich countries for their failure to deliver promised money to poorer nations for climate adaptation, according to the Guardian transcript. 

He noted that these amounted to reparation for a disaster that the richest countries had caused but which would affect poorest countries most.  

  • Wealthy countries had not kept a promise made in 2009 to provide $100 billion annually by 2020 to help the less developed countries to face climate change, da Silva said. 
  • “We need financial mechanisms to remedy loss and damage caused by climate change. We cannot postpone this debate,” he added. 

Negotiations ongoing: International delegates at COP27 are currently negotiating how to increase support for developing countries on the front lines of the climate crisis. 

If approved by all nations, a draft agreement would establish funds for “loss and damages,” to pay reparations to such nations, as our colleague Zack Budryk reported. 

Avoiding the issue: The U.S, EU and U.K. have all been unwilling to commit to anything more than a nonbinding framework to keep discussing “loss and damage,” as climate reparations are generally called, negotiators told CNN. 

With just two days left in the conference, that means the window is rapidly closing for such a deal, Axios reported. 

UN launches ‘Cool Cities Challenge’ 

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) on Wednesday launched a new initiative that encourages cities to maximize the cooling potential of nature.  

Urban populations at risk: The agency announced the Nature for Cool Cities Challenge at COP27, which ends in just a few days.  

With global cities on track to warm by about 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100, urbanites will be exposed to conditions that threaten human health, UNEP warned.  

But there is hope: Despite these sizzling projections, the agency stressed that solutions exist to cool the world’s cities sustainably.  

  • Cities can integrate the powers of nature to reduce temperatures and boost the resilience of their residents. 
  • Some such solutions include forests, green belts and parks in and around cities.   

The unique role of cities: “We have come to COP27 at a time of global crisis, but these crises are a reason to increase our climate ambition, not reduce it,” Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, global lead for climate and energy at the World Wildlife Fund, said in a statement.  

  • “Cities play a key role in avoiding the most severe impacts of global warming,” Pulgar-Vidal added. 
  • His organization is a member of the UNEP-led Cool Coalition, which also includes Sustainable Energy for All, Mission Innovation, the Rocky Mountain Institute, the World Resources Institute, the University of Oxford and Durham University.  

Quantifiable goals: Participating cities must pledge to increase the proportion of high-quality, nature-based cooling solutions in their jurisdictions by 2030, according to the challenge. 

  • However, they will already need to show demonstrable progress by 2025. 
  • Participants will set a quantitative target — such as an area or percent increase — as well as funding goals and implementation plans.  

Who can participate? The challenge can include municipalities and state, provincial or county governments, according to the program.  

  • Financial and technical assistance will be available to an initial cohort of nine participants: three lower-middle income cities, two upper middle-income cities and one high-income city in the global south.  
  • The focus is on cities with populations up to 3 million that have not yet received substantial aid for cooling solutions. 

Keeping pace with nature: “To make peace with nature, we need to rebuild our cities with nature in mind,” Sheila Aggarwal-Khan, director of UNEP’s economy division, said in a statement. 

Electricity critical to fight global poverty: scientists 

Access to electricity may play a much more significant role in improving economic livelihoods than previously assumed, a new study has found. 

Double the yield: Stanford University scientists harnessed the power of satellite imagery and artificial intelligence to quantify the impacts such a shift can make — publishing their findings on Wednesday in Nature. 

  • The researchers focused on the country of Uganda and its expanding electricity grid.  
  • They saw that livelihoods for populations that gained access to electricity roughly doubled in comparison to those that lacked power.  

Tangible growth: In Uganda, the electricity grid covered 41 percent of the nation’s land mass as of 2019 — up from 12 percent in 2010, according to the study. 

But the scientists found that communities granted electricity access witnessed significant changes, evident in the appearance of home construction, appliances and other tangible assets. 

At first a daunting task: Lead author Nathan Ratledge said that when he first began probing electrification in Africa five years ago, he couldn’t find grid maps anywhere on the continent. 

“It’s hard in many low-income countries to get any reliable data, and especially repeated data over time,” Ratledge, a PhD candidate at Stanford’s Doerr School of Sustainability, said in a statement.  

But Ratledge and his co-authors were able to use a “deep learning” technique previously developed by Stanford professors Marshall Burke, David Lobell and Stefano Ermon. 

  • The tool harnesses artificial intelligence to detect patterns and extract information from imagery — data that can then be applied to satellite records going back over time. 
  • Ratledge used the technique to zoom in on Uganda’s grid expansion in 2011 and 2012, combined with newly digitized maps and satellite-based estimates of wealth.  

A new frontier: “This technique opens up a whole new and dramatically different frontier for assessing economic growth among emerging countries,” Ratledge said. 

To learn more about the new tool, please click here for the full story.   

Wildlife Wednesday

Fish and Wildlife Service offers help for African elephants, conserving forests could help prevent future pandemics and border fences could be bad news for animals. 

Fish and Wildlife Service proposes steps for African elephant protection 

  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday proposed an amendment to the Endangered Species Act that would protect African elephants in the wild as well as improve the welfare of captive elephants under U.S. jurisdiction. The move occurred in response to a surge in international trade in live African elephants, the agency said. 

Restoring wildlife habitats could help prevent future pandemics: study 

  • Curbing the destruction of wildlife habitats could help prevent future pandemics, according to a new study in Nature, covered by our colleague Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech. Focusing on Australian fruit bats and the deadly Hendra virus, a Cornell-led team found that maintaining forests could reduce “spillover” to horses and humans.  

Border fences blocking key animal migrations

  • Rising border walls in regions like the U.S. Southwest are blocking critical migration routes for numerous animal species — particularly as their ranges shift along with climate change, according to Yale Environment 360. If a continuous wall were completed, it would disconnect more than a third of U.S. non-flying animals from more than 50 percent of their range, a study from Defenders of Wildlife found. 

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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