Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — Pablo Escobar's 'cocaine hippos' undergo mass sterilization

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — Pablo Escobar's 'cocaine hippos' undergo mass sterilization
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A herd of hulking hippos, first introduced into Colombia as the private pets of drug lord Pablo Escobar, are now undergoing mass sterilization due to mounting concerns that the 80-strong cohort threatens the local environment, The Guardian reported.

The so-called cocaine hippos are descended from a group of four imported into Escoabr’s Hacienda Napoles estate in the early 1980s from Africa.


Police gunned down the notorious cocaine trafficker in 1993 and seized his property, but left the hippos to their own devices, The Washington Post reported.

While authorities assumed the animals would die out, they flourished instead, swelling to somewhere between 80 and 120 — with those numbers expected to reach 1,400 by 2039 if they are left alone, according to the Post.

With the ferocious mammals already a hazard to native species, the Colombian government has thus far sterilized 24 by administering a chemical that makes them infertile, according to The Guardian.

Also, since we’re on the subject, a group of hippos is called a bloat. You’re welcome.

Today we’ll explore some creative solutions that have each won $1.4 million to improve local environments — from none other than the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Then we’ll look at a race by the automotive industry to develop its own battery supply chains to meet the growing market for electric vehicles. 

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.


Prince William’s Earthshot Prize awards almost $7 million to global environmental innovators

Prince William and his wife, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, revealed Sunday the first winners of the Earthshot Prize, awarding about $1.4 million to five different global initiatives that have advanced “cutting-edge environmental solutions,” according to an announcement. 

The five winners ranged from the entire country of Costa Rica to a municipal program in Milan to tech startups, all selected due to “their ground-breaking solutions to the greatest environmental challenges facing our planet,” a news release said.

“Our five inspirational winners show that everyone has a role to play in the global effort to repair our planet,” William, an Earthshot Prize founder, said in a statement. “Ultimately, we need all of us to demand that the solutions get the support they need.”

What’s the Earthshot Prize? Taking inspiration from former President Kennedy’s moonshot program, William launched the prize by focusing on five “Earthshots” — protect nature, clean the air, revive oceans, eliminate waste and fix the climate — which the Royal Foundation described as “simple but ambitious goals” that could improve lives worldwide if achieved by 2030. 

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge announced the winners virtually during a ceremony in London, where they were accompanied by David Attenborough and several activists and performers, including Ed Sheeran, according to the news release. 

  1. The “Protect and Restore Nature” Earthshot Prize went to the Republic of Costa Rica, for its policy that pays citizens to protect forests, the announcement said. Praising the Costa Rican people for having “reversed decades of deforestation,” the prize council said the country has doubled the size of forests while contributing $4 billion to the economy through ecotourism. Costa Rica will be using the money to help replicate its model in other countries, as well as protect the ocean, the news release said.




At Southern Company, we achieved our interim net zero energy goal ten years early. Today, we continue our work toward a net zero future.


  1. The “Clean our Air” Prize went to the New Delhi-based company Takachar, which created a tractor attachment that converts crop residues into fuels and fertilizers, while reducing agricultural emissions by up to 98 percent, the announcement said. With its award, Takachar is planning to expand its presence in rural communities around the world, with a goal of cutting a billion tons of carbon dioxide every year.
  1. The “Revive our Oceans” Prize went to the Bahamian company Coral Vita, which has innovated a way to grow coral on land and replant it in the ocean — and do so about 50 times faster than traditional methods, the news release said. Coral Vita will be using the added funds to establish a global network of coral farms, with an aim of growing a billion corals annually.  
  1. The “Build a Waste-free World” Prize went to Milan’s Food Waste Hub program, which recovers food from local supermarkets and restaurants — generating the equivalent of 260,000 extra meals each year, according to the announcement. The city of Milan intends to use its winnings to help scale its initiative to other cities.
  1. The “Fix our Climate” Prize went to the company AEM Electrolyser, which has roots in Thailand, Germany and Italy, and transforms renewable electricity into emission-free hydrogen gas, the news release said. The firm will use its prize money to help scale production and make AEM Electrolysers more accessible. 

Last words: Attenborough, a natural historian and BBC broadcaster, commended the prize winners for providing “innovative and brilliant solutions to the world’s challenges.”

“The natural world on which we entirely depend is declining at a rate faster than at any time since the end of the dinosaurs,” he said in the statement. “We know where this story is heading and we must now write a different ending.”


Three ways to electrify your auto supply chain

Car companies are turning to new partnerships and factories to boost their battery supplies across North America and Western Europe.

That’s a way to get around the intersection of two emerging concerns: supply chain problems and the rise in demand driven by both government directives and a market thirsty for new and better electric vehicles.

First steps: Stellantis, Toyota and Ford and are each looking to dramatically scale up their electric vehicle sales to meet government mandates and rising market demand, which is driving each company to find ways to churn out more batteries, Reuters reported.

Government requirements and supply chain woes are two restrictions anyone looking to sell cars in Europe and the U.S. has to wrestle with. 

First is a regulatory push: The E.U. aims to end sales of combustion-driven automobiles by 2035, and the Biden administration wants to have 50 percent of new vehicles be electric by 2030. 

And with supply chain disruptions canceling out much of the cost benefit from cheaper manufacturing in Asia, each company is pursuing a different strategy to bring its production closer to its customers, The Wall Street Journal reported.


Strategy One: Develop a partnership. Amsterdam-based Stellantis is partnering with Korea-based LG Energy Solution to build a factory in the U.S., according to Reuters.

The factory will allow Stellantis — which owns Fiat, Chrysler and Jeep — to turn out hundreds of thousands of electric vehicles in the U.S. without having to develop its own in-house battery supply chain, the Journal noted.

The downside of partnership: That approach carries risks — as General Motors discovered in its own partnership with LG Energy Solution, the battery production arm of manufacturing giant LG Corp. 

On Tuesday, LG agreed to pay back $1.9 billion for battery problems that led to fires in the Chevy Bolt, which forced GM to recall every single one, CNBC reported.

But for car companies that need to rapidly add new supply chains in which they may have limited experience, contracting out may be unavoidable. Despite the setback, GM is continuing its own battery partnership with LG, CNBC reported.

For an extreme version of this strategy: Taiwan-based Foxconn just rolled out three new electric vehicle designs that will work rather like the iPhones it manufactures for Apple: basic structures will be made by Foxconn but a carmaker will slap their brand on it, the Journal reported.

Apple itself is exploring the possibility of its own automotive line, although it is unclear if Foxconn will build it, the South China Morning Post reported.


Strategy Two: Build it yourself. Japan-based Toyota is going the Tesla route, announcing on Tuesday it would build its own $1.3 billion dollar battery plant in the U.S., USA Today reported.

Notably, Toyota is beginning with producing batteries for gas-electric hybrids, not full electric vehicles. This comes as a kind of compromise from an automaker that has historically been so opposed to electric vehicles — its preferred future technology was hydrogen fuel cells — that it fought against a Biden electric mandate, as we reported in July.

Strategy Three: Retrofit an existing supply chain. Ford is spending $315 million to convert an old auto transmission factory in northwest England into an electric powertrain factory that the company expects will turn out 250,000 a year for Ford’s European market, The Associated Press reported.

This last effort could allay fears among internal-combustion engine assembly workers that the electric vehicle revolution threatens their jobs, since the electric powertrain assembly process is less labor intensive, Reuters reported.

Takeaway: This last effort is worth singling out, because many in the Biden administration and congressional Democratic caucus want to restrict potential electric vehicle subsidies to unionized carmakers — notably excluding Toyota and Tesla — which would give unions an important say in any reimagining of operations. 

That makes convincing existing workers that jobs are safe a potentially key, if covert, concern in retooling the automotive supply chain.



At Southern Company, we achieved our interim net zero energy goal ten years early. Today, we continue our work toward a net zero future.

Mitigation Monday

In which we look at a few ways government agencies and investors are trying — and sometimes failing — to alleviate environmental harm. 

EPA to regulate certain types of ‘forever chemicals’ in 2023 

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will begin regulating certain types of “forever chemicals” in drinking water in 2023, Rachel Frazin reported for The Hill.
  • These toxic compounds, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), are linked to kidney cancer, liver disease and various developmental, immunological and reproductive issues. Thus far, the EPA has only set health advisory levels for two PFAS compounds, rather than set regulations for the thousands of types of PFAS.
  • The 2023 drinking water limits will only apply to the two most common types of PFAS: PFOA and PFOS. However, the EPA is also developing a new testing strategy for PFAS, which would require manufacturers to conduct and fund studies and could involve testing orders by the end of this year, The Hill reported.
  • Although the forthcoming drinking water regulations are considered a long-awaited milestone, some environmental activists have demanded that PFAS be regulated as an entire group rather than on individual basis, the report said.

Investors buy up “blue bonds” to clean up ocean shipping 

  • When shipping company Seaspan Corp. needed $500 million in capital to build a lower-emission fleet, it took an unusual step: so called “blue bonds,” The Wall Street Journal reported. 
  • Seaspan ended up raising $750 million from investors who see lower-carbon shipping as a growth inventory — part of a broader interest in “environmentally friendly debt,” the Journal reported.
  • “We see branding a green bond blue as an effort to increase visibility on issues related to the maritime environment,” Nicholas Pfaff, head of sustainable finance at the International Capital Market Association, told the Journal.

In Sweden, local mitigation may lead to global exacerbation

  • In July, a Swedish environmental court ordered the country’s biggest cement maker to stop mining limestone by its largest factory — forcing the country into a difficult choice, Reuters reported.
  • While the cement company seeks out new sources, Sweden will either have to import the material from companies with less efficient, higher-emitting cement industries — “or risk massive job losses in the construction industry at home,” Reuters reported.
  • The problem is a natural experiment in “carbon leakage” — the possibility that stringent local environmental regulations can lead to greater emissions as production shifts to countries with lower, and therefore cheaper, standards.
  • At its extreme, said one of the team researchers, this leads to “environmental nationalism,” which benefits one country, but not the world as a whole.


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