Equilibrium/ Sustainability — Presented by NextEra Energy — Global heatwave spares the hajj

Equilibrium/ Sustainability — Presented by NextEra Energy — Global heatwave spares the hajj
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Today is Tuesday.  Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup

Sizzling temperatures and wildfires continue to ravage the Western U.S. and vulnerable landscapes around the world. But one holy site, in one of the world’s hottest countries, is getting a slight reprieve from the heat at a particularly auspicious time.  

Hajj pilgrims traveling to Mecca this week for a second pandemic-era journey — an obligatory trip for all able-bodied adult Muslims once in their lifetime — will enjoy a break from Saudi Arabia’s ongoing heat wave, Reema Al Othman and Laura Millan Lombrana reported for Bloomberg Green.

But pilgrims should not expect temperatures to be cool, with forecasters predicting temperatures as high as 44 degrees Celsius (111 Fahrenheit). But as one pilgrim told Bloomberg, that weather isn’t “too bad,” as Riyadh’s heat is usually just as high — and hajj temperatures have risen to 50 degrees Celsius in the past.

At least in the short-term, that’s good news for the viability of one of the Islamic world’s key rituals. Stateside, the Biden administration has issued new cybersecurity requirements to protect critical infrastructure, while a leading energy group says the world’s wealthy countries must spend far more to achieve a green coronavirus recovery.

For Equilibrium, we are Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Please send tips or comments to Saul at selbein@thehill.com or Sharon at sudasin@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @saul_elbein and @sharonudasin

Let’s get to it.


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Biden administration seeks to harden oil infrastructure for world with cyberattacks

The Biden administration has issued new cybersecurity requirements for U.S. pipeline operators in an effort to make the country’s critical infrastructure less vulnerable to ransomware attacks, Dustin Volz reported for The Wall Street Journal.

The directive, issued by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), is the first federal mandate of its kind to require that certain pipelines adopt specific cybersecurity standards, according to the Journal. The new rules are rolling out during a tense period marked by cyberattacks on American infrastructure — and just a few months after the Russia-based DarkSide Group forced the 5,500-mile Colonial Pipeline to shut down for almost a week.

By implementing the directive, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) aims to help pipeline operators safeguard infrastructure from “rising cyber threats, and better protect our national and economic security,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro MayorkasAlejandro MayorkasSecond senior official leaving DHS in a week Biden administration expanding efforts to reunite separated migrant families DHS secretary's chief of staff resigns MORE said in a news release.

“DHS will continue working closely with our private sector partners to support their operations and increase their cybersecurity resilience,” Mayorkas added.

Previous steps taken: Tuesday’s announcement follows up on an initial security directive issued by the TSA in May, which required pipeline owners and operators to report confirmed and potential cybersecurity incidents to DHS, designate a cybersecurity coordinator to be available 24/7, identify what cyber-related risks they are exposed to and propose remediation measures.   

Recent attacks: President BidenJoe BidenOvernight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Democrats hope Biden can flip Manchin and Sinema On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Democrats advance tax plan through hurdles MORE has been under increasing pressure to respond to recent cyberattacks, which continue to threaten national infrastructure and business operations. 

A Russia-based criminal group called REvil took responsibility for a global computer hack over Fourth of July weekend, which was accessed through a vulnerability in the Kaseya network management system. Experts saw that strike as less devastating than the May attack on the Colonial Pipeline, which prompted panic-buying of fuel along the East Coast, The Washington Post reported


Attacks aren’t just coming from Russia: A variety of news outlets reported Sunday that governments around the world might be using software from the Israeli cyber-surveillance firm, NSO Group, to target journalists, dissidents and opposition politicians, according to The New York Times. 

And as we reported Monday, the White House and its allies blamed China for a cyberattack that struck tens of thousands of computers worldwide. In response, Chinese diplomats around the globe issued statements slamming these claims as “groundless” and as a “malicious smear,” Edward White and Christian Shepherd reported for the Financial Times. Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian called upon the U.S. to stop its own cyberattacks against China, the Times reported.

Meanwhile, disagreements between the National Security Council and State Department officials have prevented efforts to create a digital-services pact with U.S. allies in the Asia Pacific, which would exclude China, Bob Davis reported for the Journal. Such a pact could include cross-border flows of information and digital privacy, according to the Journal.

Takeaway: With cyber warfare becoming “disconcertingly routine,” policy experts are now considering whether this is “a new normal of continuous, government-linked hacking” that could become “a permanent feature of the global order,” Max Fisher wrote for The New York Times.

If that’s the case, the question remains how to make our most critical infrastructure resilient — functioning with minimal vulnerabilities in a world with maximum chance for attack.

“Hacking is coming to play a role in the 21st century much like espionage did in the 20th,” Fisher wrote. “It is a never-ending cat-and-mouse game played by small states and great powers alike.”


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Energy group: More stimulus needed to emerge from pandemic, cut carbon

The delta variant of coronavirus continues its worldwide spread, even across the highly vaccinated Israel and the U.K. That is spooking markets, dropping the price of gas, strengthening the hands of workers — and leading to calls for a much more ambitious, globally targeted green recovery.

Step one: Covid will always be with us,” The Wall Street Journal’s Editorial Board concluded, reacting to reports that the Dow Jones Jones Industrial Average had dropped 2.1 percent, and dropping many former favorite stocks as much as 10 percent, Joe Rennison and Eric Platt reported for the Financial Times.

Board maintains that investors were overreacting: While the delta variant is about twice as transmissible as the original strain that emerged in Wuhan in late 2019, the Journal board argued that more than 99 percent of coronavirus patients hospitalized in the U.S. are unvaccinated — meaning further vaccination, not lockdown, was the solution. 

But with more than 75 percent of the world’s population unvaccinated, according to Our World in Data, the spreading virus has meant social and economic repercussions around the world, impacting global sustainability in unexpected ways.

  • No exit strategy for China: In China, which is not accepting that coronavirus will always be with us, a government goal of zero cases — which helped rally the country’s economy in 2020 — has now led to a protracted struggle that could leave the country isolated into 2022, Christian Shepherd and Primrose Riordan reported for the Financial Times. “In China, once an institution is built, it’s hard to tear down,” a public health expert told the Times. 
  • Delta drops oil prices: The belief that the pandemic was over spiked oil prices; the realization that it isn't has driven them down 14 percent, Joe Wallace reported for The Wall Street Journal
  • Short-term that’s a relief for households, but long-term it’s a problem: Since most of the world, and disproportionately the poorer world, runs on fossil fuels, lower and more consistent fuel prices make life easier for the world’s poor and working class. But this also means more emissions and, in the long run, a worse situation for everyone.

All this coincides with an International Energy Agency (IEA) report finding that, for all the talk about a green recovery, coronavirus stimulus packages will have to increase threefold — and be far more directed to emerging economies — to reach net-zero by 2050, Camilla Hodgson reported for the Financial Times


An off-ramp from record emissions: The $380 billion in pandemic support allocated by governments — about 2 percent of the $13 trillion total spent on recovery spending — would not even be enough to keep emissions levels from hitting a new record in 2023, according to IEA director Fatih Birol, as Zack Budryk reported for The Hill.

Some of that can be averted, the IEA report implies, with more money directed toward more places. In 2020, the IEA suggested world governments spend $1 trillion per year on green transition — particularly in emerging markets.

Emerging markets, the report suggested, provide countries with more carbon reduction bang for their buck, because those regions are “missing the benefits that well-planned clean energy investment brings,” Birol said. Financial institutions have been far more reluctant to fund renewable energy in emerging markets than they are ones based on fossil fuels. 

Takeaway: Without active, well-financed intervention from wealthy nations, the IEA report suggests that those economies will seek to haul themselves out of the coronavirus slump — which has immiserated millions — with the power sources that they can get financing for, such as high-emissions emitting coal.


Short features

After spaceflight, Bezos reiterates commitment to combating climate change

Machine learning shows that clouds will amplify climate change

  • The role of clouds on global heating is “the single most important cause of uncertainty” in the climate system according to a recent study that claims to have untangled that role through machine learning.
  • We know global warming drives changes in clouds, but not whether that dampens further changes or amplifies them, Inside Climate News reported.
  • Unfortunately, it is 97.5 percent certain to be the latter, the team found, in a report that will help make climate predictions more accurate. “It really tells us how clouds respond to changes in local surface temperature,” a researcher told ICN.
  • Their findings demonstrate how machine learning networks are helping solve complex predictive problems — with their messy tangles of interrelated inputs and outputs — that climate change tends to generate.

Oregon state firefighters: The Bootleg fire is “generating its own weather”

  • Oregon’s Bootleg fire has gotten so big that it is fueling the rise of “pyrocumulus clouds” up to 30,000 feet. This drives complex atmospheric interactions by which the fire fuels itself, The New York Times reported.
  • All fires, from a candle on up, do this to some degree, but rarely this big. When it does get this big, those atmospheric interactions can create the dreaded pyrocumulonimbus — fire-plumes that can reach 45,000 feet and can generate their own lightning — and with them new fires and, paradoxically, rain. That is not necessarily good news, as wet downdrafts stoke the flames.
  • While the phenomena are big and complex, the reason for such a big, powerful fire is simple: too many dead trees, too dried out. To avoid further fires this big, we need to get that fuel off the landscape.

In the coming days, we’ll return to tracking how the massive bipartisan infrastructure bill is faring, and we’ll keep our eyes on a PFAS Action Plan coming to the House floor. For a preview about that bill, and its goal of eliminating “forever chemicals” from U.S. drinking water, click here to read our interview with Rep. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellVirginia Democrat introduces tax credit for electric commercial vehicles More than 100 Democrats back legislation lowering Medicare eligibility age to 60 The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by AT&T - Texas's near abortion ban takes effect MORE (D-Mich.). 

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