Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — NASA wants a nuclear reactor on the moon

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Today is Monday. Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup

As we bicker over best ways to power the planet, NASA is looking to light up our nearest lunar locale, The Associated Press (AP) reported. 

NASA, together with the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory, has put out a call for proposals for a nuclear fission surface power system on the moon. Both agencies hope to providing a sustained, sun-independent power source for potential human habitation of the moon — or even Mars, according to the AP.

“Providing a reliable, high-power system on the moon is a vital next step in human space exploration, and achieving it is within our grasp,” Sebastian Corbisiero, the Fission Surface Power Project lead at the lab, said in a statement. 

Back on Earth, we’ll take a look at some of the economic and supply chain hurdles American families — and politicians — will be facing as we head into Thanksgiving week. Then we’ll consider carbon markets, which hit a key milestone this weekend, in a sign of momentum behind the energy transition.

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.


Americans brace for pricier Thanksgiving  

Americans preparing for Thanksgiving meals will be paying about 14 percent more than last year, which analysts say is the biggest such increase in recent history, according to local news station NY1.

Dinner for a family of 10 will cost about $53.31, as opposed to last year’s average of $46.90, NY1 reported, citing the American Farm Bureau. The cost of a 16-pound turkey surged by 24 percent in comparison to last year, while frozen pie crusts rose by 20 percent and fresh cranberries increased by 11 percent, the data found.

What’s going on? A variety of things, including “dramatic disruptions to the U.S. economy and supply chains over the last 20 months,” as well as inflation, surging global food demands and other pandemic-related unpredictabilities, Veronica Nigh, a senior economist at the American Farm Bureau, told NY1. 

Just “a handful of farms” are nourishing “thousands or millions of people,” Trish Vasta, a farmer in Cortlandt, N.Y., told The Guardian.

“But the system is breaking down,” Vasta said, noting that shipping issues are driving more people to turn to local options.

How are things inside stores? Stop & Shop in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., had “turkeys stacked up to the roof,” a sales manager told The Guardian. But the store is also limiting sales to one turkey per $25 spent, according to The Guardian. 

Butterball, the North Carolina-based poultry company that produces more than a billion pounds of turkey each year, told The Guardian that its prices “remain roughly the same as previous years.”

But smaller producers don’t have the same access to economies of scale, which would let them avoid passing on price increases to customers — meaning Vasta’s turkeys are selling at nearly five times the price of a Butterball bird, according to The Guardian.

Things are similar around the country: While supplies might “look good now,” they will not necessarily “look the same on Wednesday before Thanksgiving,” April Martin, Corporate Affairs Manager for the Kroger Dallas Division, told NBC Dallas Fort Worth.

In Florida, meanwhile, Publix has set purchasing limits for traditional Thanksgiving items and disposable kitchenware, citing statewide supply issues, ABC West Palm Beach reported.

And don’t plan to go to Target for last-minute items: Target announced on Monday that it would permanently close stores on Thanksgiving Day and institute season-long discounts rather than just Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales, The Associated Press reported.

“What started as a temporary measure driven by the pandemic is now our new standard,” Target CEO Brian Cornell wrote in a note to employees, according to the AP.




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



A pivotal political moment: Amid months of supply chain shortages and an expected surge in shopping and travel, Black Friday “will kick off a crucial stretch for President Biden,” our colleagues Alex Gangitano and Sylvan Lane reported. Retail sales — excluding cars and gasoline — are expected to rise 10 percent from last year and 12.2 percent from 2019, according to data from Mastercard. 

This means a different sort of Black Friday: “With discounts in short supply, product innovation, availability and sustainability will be deciding factors for consumers eager to cross off their holiday shopping lists,” said Steve Sadove, senior adviser for Mastercard.

Biden’s political stakes will be high — with escalating prices hampering the president’s approval ratings and Republicans ready to accuse him of ruining the holidays.

Democrats are concerned that inflation could thwart their midterm electoral prospects, as Americans balk at the costs of Thanksgiving meal prep and the gas they need to reach those meals, according to The New York Times. Meanwhile, the Times reported, Republicans feel these circumstances will help them “in delivering a red wave in 2022.” 

Last words: “For a voter, it does not require them knowing every nuance of fiscal policy and how that relates to inflation,” Dan Conston, president of the Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican super PAC, told the Times. 

“They are fundamentally feeling the pain already, and they have one group of people to blame for it: Democrats, who control all of Washington,” Coston added.

EU carbon prices hit record high 

The price of carbon reached a global record in European markets on Monday, entering the range that experts say is necessary to finance serious emissions cuts.

The rise was buoyed by one of the few concrete measures to come out of the COP26 climate summit: the long-delayed agreement of a set of shared standards to unite the world’s regional carbon markets.

Step one: Falling temperatures across Europe on Monday led to a surge in demand for coal — which under European emissions reductions laws required the power companies burning that coal to buy carbon credits to cover the unscheduled emissions, Reuters reported.

That drove EU carbon prices above a record $79 a ton (71 euros) — surpassing the $75 per ton the International Monetary Fund estimates is needed worldwide by 2030 to fund and incentivize the energy transition, Reuters reported.

What’s a carbon market? As a refresher, carbon trading markets fall into two categories: mandatory trading systems, like the E.U.’s Emissions Trading System, and voluntary offset markets, in which companies pay for programs like tree planting to cancel out some of their emissions.

There are 65 regulated carbon markets covering about 21.5 percent of global emissions, according to the World Bank.

The problem of double-counting: Dozens of separate regional markets in the midst of a global market for finance and goods led to a key risk in carbon markets: They aren’t necessarily in sync, leading to the “double-counting” of emissions credits, in which two organizations — either companies or countries — get credit for the same emissions cut or offset, The Conversation reported.

For example, a country selling a carbon credit — perhaps backed by a new planted forest or battery of carbon dioxide sucking direct air capture machines — could claim the emissions reduction at the same time the buyer claims it, a discrepancy which might not be noticed in a world of disconnected carbon markets that don’t compare books, The Conversation noted.



Creating common rules: At COP26, negotiators finished what the 2015 Paris climate accords began: They created “a common set of tools” to be shared among the world’s diverse carbon markets, according to The Guardian. This toolset provided “a framework for international cooperation” and helped reduce the risk of double-counting, Hæge Fjellheim of financial data provider Refinitiv told The Guardian.

The newly rigorous measures could lead to more confidence among carbon investors, which  means “trillions of dollars” could be poured into developing countries to fund reforestation and the transition off coal, The Guardian reported.

Where could that money go? A good first step would be paying to protect the “irrecoverable carbon” — irreplaceable mangrove swamps, old-growth forests and peatlands — that could not be replaced if destroyed, according to a study in Nature Sustainability.

Fifty percent of these reserves are concentrated on 3.3-percent of the Earth’s surface, the paper found.

These regions, however, come with a challenge: by their very nature as frontier regions, they are likely to lack the “stability and visibility” demanded by carbon markets, Bloomberg reported.

So are we heading toward a single global price for carbon? Probably not anytime soon, The Wall Street Journal reported. So many different industries face such different “roads to decarbonization that it seems impossible to implement a single price within the EU, let alone across different jurisdictions,” according to the Journal. 

The EU, for example, is looking to add shipping to its existing carbon market. But it is creating a new, different market to trade emissions in the buildings and transportation sectors, which have distinct challenges, the Journal reported. 

Takeaway: Carbon markets are a backstop to or tool for regulatory action — and can even be a dangerous distraction, The Guardian noted.

But the new COP26 rules and rising EU carbon prices are yet another sign of the momentum behind the energy transition — and a danger to oil companies, who may find trillions of dollars in fossil fuel reserves “stranded” as the transition progresses, the Journal reported.



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

Monday Miscellanies

Tesla lockouts, self-driving electric freighters and the climate fighting powers of the common roundabout.  

500 Tesla drivers locked out of cars by crashed server

  • A Tesla server outage left 500 people worldwide — from South Korea to Florida — unable to access their cars on Saturday, the BBC reported.
  • Tesla provides key cards to users to activate their cars but has been pushing people to rely on the phone app.
  • “To some extent, Tesla is a bit of a victim of its own success,” Birmingham Business School professor — and Tesla owner — David Bailey told the BBC. “It encourages its customers to use the cutting edge technology it creates and sometimes that will go wrong.”
  • There’s a broader sustainability point, as Stuart Masson of The Car Expert told the BBC. “If we are reliant on one mechanism all the time, we can be caught out.”

Autonomous, electric freighter sales Norwegian fjords

  • Norway is launching the world’s first autonomous, electric freighter, which will run 120 containers of fertilizer on an 8-mile coastal jaunt and remove the need for 40,000 diesel truck loads per year, engineering news site Tech Xplore reported.
  • The ship motors run on 6.8 megawatt hours of electricity drawn from hydropower — about equivalent to “100 Teslas,” project manager Jostein Braaten told Tech Xplore.
  • Electric maritime transport is growing more common in Norway, including on ferries — though is not yet well suited for long-distance ocean travel.

How traffic circles are helping the climate

  • Modern traffic circles, also known as “roundabouts,” provide environmental advantages over traffic lights, as they don’t require electricity and don’t cause lineups of idling vehicles, The New York Times reported.
  • Each roundabout in Carmel, Ind., — which has replaced most stoplights with circles — saves about 20,000 gallons of fuel annually, a former city engineer told the Times.
  • The roundabout influx was the brainchild of Mayor Jim Brainard (R), who became enamored by European traffic flow while at Oxford University in the 1980s, according to the Times.
  • Brainard faced pushback due to the dangers associated with huge roundabouts like Place Charles de Gaulle in Paris or DuPont Circle in Washington.
  • But he understood that compact circles with smaller angles of entry could improve traffic flow, increase safety and stay friendly to pedestrians and cyclists, the Times reported. 


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


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