Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Altria — Walrus detectives: Scientists recruit public to spot mammal from space

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Altria — Walrus detectives: Scientists recruit public to spot mammal from space
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Today is Thursday. Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup

Scientists are hedging their bets on puzzle-solving enthusiasts eager to search for a long-tusked, mustached marine mammal in a celestial rendition of “Where’s Walrus?” 

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), together with the British Antarctic Survey, is enlisting members of the public to become “walrus detectives” by poring over thousands of satellite images taken from space, with the goal of identifying and counting the 3,300-pound animals, The Washington Post reported. The search comes amid fears that climate change is influencing both their population numbers and their habitats, according to the Post.

“Assessing walrus populations by traditional methods is very difficult, as they live in extremely remote areas,” Hannah Cubaynes, research associate at the British Antarctic Survey told the Post. “Satellite images can solve this problem as they can survey huge tracts of coastline.” 

The WWF is hoping to recruit half a million people worldwide, including young children, who are interested in taking part in the “Walrus from Space” project, which will occur over the next four years, the Post reported. 

Back on Earth, today we’ll look at an Arctic Canadian city’s struggle with a potential water contamination crisis that is prompting the delivery of 21,000 gallons of drinking water by plane. We’ll also look at a proposal by hundreds of businesses in the high-carbon steel, aviation and shipping sectors to meet the monumental goal of getting off fossil fuels by 2050.

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.


Canadian city to receive 21K gallons of water by air after suspected pollution incident 


The mayor of the Arctic city of Iqaluit, Canada’s northernmost capital, said that the territorial government of Nunavut will be sending residents 21,000 gallons of water by plane, The Washington Post reported.

Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell’s announcement came on Wednesday after officials had instructed the city’s residents to refrain from drinking or cooking with their tap water due a suspected fuel leak into their water supply, according to the Post. The city council of Iqaluit then declared a state of emergency on Monday and urged residents to make sure they don’t swallow water in the shower, the Post reported.

What happened? Residents of Iqaluit, which has a large Inuit population, had complained earlier this month that a fuel-like odor was emanating from their tap water, the Post reported. But as recently as Oct. 4, the city, located about 1,200 miles north of Montreal, said that tests showed the water quality was satisfactory, according to the Post, citing a news release. 

By Oct. 10, the city said it was continuing “to investigate concerns from residents regarding reports of a fuel odor” and ultimately announced the suspected contamination earlier this week.

Trekking to the river: Iqaluit residents were lining up on Wednesday, empty jugs and pails in- hand, to claim water from the nearby Sylvia Grinnel River, The Globe and Mail reported. The city also made river water available at depot filling stations, but with the caveat that it still needs to be boiled for use, according to The Globe and Mail.

But actually transporting that water back to people’s homes can prove difficult, city councilor Sheila Flaherty told Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

"There's a lot of families and households who don't have food-grade jugs to actually carry water away whether it be from the river or from the water truck depots," she said.



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Making supply shortages worse: Iqaluit already had some of the highest grocery prices in Canada, the Post reported, citing an analysis from Canadian current affairs magazine Maclean’s. 

By midday Wednesday, both of Iqaluit’s main grocery stores were sold out of bottled water and plastic jugs, The Globe and Mail reported. And bottled water has long been pricey across the Nunavut territory, with a 40-pack of 500-milliliter (16-ounce) bottles selling for $48.79 CAD $48.79 ($39.45 USD), according to The Globe and Mail.

A cause for health concerns: One resident waiting in line at a water depot told Nunatsiaq News that she was stressed about potential contamination, as she had been experiencing an upset stomach for five days.

“I’m worried about what happens to your body after drinking petroleum hydrocarbons for five days,” she said.

Two other residents — one nervous about having cooked with tap water and another experiencing headaches — said they were upset that the city failed to heed the complaints of residents who said their tap water smells like gasoline for the past week, Nunatsiaq News reported.

What can be done long-term? Janet Pitsiulaaq Brewster, Iqaluit’s deputy mayor, told The Globe and Mail that water infrastructure was the top-priority issue on the city’s most recent budget. She said that Iqaluit needs $100 million to address its sewage and water systems, which is also delaying building new housing in a city of about 9,000 people. 

Last words: “We need infrastructure that allows us to be able to afford to lower our water rates,” Brewster told The Globe and Mail. “Right now, what we have is a population of people who are already struggling to make ends meet in a place with one of the highest costs of living in the country.”


A plan to decarbonize the world’s three toughest industries mobilizes 300 companies

A Delta Airlines Boeing 757 seen from the National Mall in Washington, D.C., makes its final descent into Ronald Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Va., on July 14

A coalition representing 300 companies across three of the highest carbon-emitting industries — steelmaking, shipping and aviationhave laid out their strategies to reach net-zero by 2050, in a report compiled by the Mission Possible Partnership (MPP).

The paths unveiled by the companies, which include industry leaders at Bank of America, Delta Airlines and ArcelorMittal, will require trillions of dollars and the participation of many sectors.

But taken together, they represent a vital step towards a zero-carbon economy, according to the MPP, an international climate alliance co-founded by the World Economic Forum and other global partners. 

Why these industries? Well, they’re a big slice of the global emissions problem, as they’re collectively responsible for 30 percent of global emissions — about as much as those of the United States, according to the MPP. 

That’s a bit less than the global energy sector, which makes up for 40 percent of emissions, according to the World Bank. 

But the problems these industries face are more challenging than those of the energy sector. Unlike electricity generation, for which there are feasible zero-carbon replacements like wind, solar or nuclear power, these three industries are all “hard to abate” due to their dependence on the dense on-demand energy represented by fossil fuels.

What is special about the MPP approach? First, it represents an alliance of companies from each sector, as well as financiers. That helps get around some of the collective action problems that climate action is notorious for, in which companies are incentivized to defect from agreements for their own gain.

It also lets the companies in each sector work together to pressure parts of the supply chain outside their direct control — chiefly, energy and finance — into creating the low-carbon energy sources they will need for any of this to work.


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Overcoming the “green premium:” That cooperation across sectors is essential because at present fossil fuels are far cheaper than renewable energy. In steel, for example, building and operating a low-carbon plant costs 55 percent more than a high-carbon one, and for shipping and aviation, few low-carbon alternatives exist at all.

In the MPP report and elsewhere, this is called the “green premium.” We and future generations may see the benefit of lower carbon, but someone has to pay for it now, and businesses may have to operate at a loss for their initial years of operation. 

By acting together over the next decade, these businesses hope to ensure that the new factories and supply chains introduced by the end of the decade — and which will still be operating by mid-century — will be zero carbon.

These MPP plans identify the 2020s as a time for the rapid development of technologies and supply chains that can then be massively scaled up over the 2030s.

Investment upstream: That means that each sector needs zero-carbon fuels to work with as they modify steelmaking processes, as well as airliner and ship operations, to use less energy. That ultimately seems to mean hydrogen and ammonia for steel and shipping, according to the MPP proposal.

For the airline industry, a hoped-for boom in green hydrogen fuel — generated by renewable power — and battery technology must be met for now by scaling up in “sustainable aviation fuels,” or SAF. 

Why don’t we use that now? Because SAF, a product that can be derived from plants, biofuels or even cooking fat,  faces its own green premium: it costs four to five times as much as conventional jet fuel, according to Aviation Today.

Takeaway: That’s the sort of price spread that must be overcome for any of this to work. And such a transformation is more likely when a sector works together, rather than a single company trying to make dramatic changes on its own.

Thursday Threats

Alisal fire rages in Southern California

COP26 may not deliver necessary emissions cuts, U.S. climate envoy says

Amid threats to supply chain, IKEA takes refuge in redundancy

  • Due to supply chain disruptions at IKEA, customers seeking mid-priced modular furniture for bedrooms and living rooms are finding empty shelves, according to The Wall Street Journal.
  • This is part of a “very global” problem in which the company is “struggling to have the goods in the right place at the right time,” company retail operations manager Tolga Öncü told the Journal.


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