Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — US agency killed 400K native animals in 2021

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A branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) killed 1.75 million animals last year, with more than a fifth of them — 400,000 — native to North America, according to agency numbers analyzed by the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity.

USDA’s Wildlife Services department, which works in part to kill predator species that may threaten livestock, killed hundreds of gray wolves, black bears, mountain lions and bobcats; thousands of foxes; and tens of thousands of beavers.

The vast majority of animals killed — more than 1 million — were European starlings, non-native birds famous for their enormous, acrobatic flocks. Others killed were feral hogs, nutria (a kind of large water rodent), armadillos, alligators and turtles. 

Agency spokesperson Tanya Espinosa noted in an email to The Hill that “nearly 95 percent of the work conducted by Wildlife Services is nonlethal,” involving strategies like dispersal, relocation and habitat modification.

In 2021, Wildlife Services dispersed around 25 million animals, about 14 times as many as it killed. The Center for Biological Diversity noted that the number of native animals killed was similar to 2020 and significantly below previous years’ levels.

Still, the death of native species — and particularly carnivores, which many conservationists describe as crucial to keep invasive species out — is of particular concern to groups like the Center for Biological Diversity. 

“Killing carnivores like wolves and coyotes to supposedly benefit the livestock industry just leads to more conflicts and more killing,” Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director with the group, said in a statement. 

Today we’ll look at a recent promise by the Biden administration to send more methane gas to Europe, then we’ll talk to an urban heat waves expert to discuss why cooling centers aren’t enough to keep populations safe.

For Equilibrium, we are Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Please send tips or feedback to selbein@thehill.com and sudasin@thehill.com.

Let’s get to it. 

 

US, EU gas deal highlights supply constraints

President Biden announced on Friday that the United States would help to supply the European Union with 15 billion cubic meters of liquified natural gas (LNG) this year, our colleague Brett Samuels reported. 
 
The deal is largely symbolic, given the maxed-out capacity of U.S. export facilities and the staggering size of shipments of Russian natural gas to Europe. 
 
What Biden said: Standing with Ursula Van der Leyen, president of the European Commission, Biden said that “eliminating Russian gas will have costs for Europe.” 
 
“But it’s not only the right thing to do, from a moral standpoint. It’s going to put us on a much stronger strategic footing,” Biden said during a joint event in Brussels. 
 
How this builds on European momentum: A plan before the European Commission would aim to lower its imports of Russian gas by two-thirds this year and phase out purchases entirely by 2027, the executive body announced.
 
Does the United States have gas to spare? No — a promise to send gas to Europe is “more about the re-direction of existing supplies than new capacity,” LNG analyst Alex Froley told Reuters. 

The problem isn’t just drilling more gas: Making it economical to ship across the Atlantic requires compressing and refrigerating it to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit — an expensive process for which there are a limited number of export facilities. 

Soaring gas prices have kept those facilities at capacity, bottlenecking U.S. LNG exports even if drillers succeed in producing more, Reuters reported.  

Even if the U.S. could do it, it wouldn’t close the gap: The EU currently gets 40 percent of its gas from Russia — about 155 billion cubic meters in 2021. That’s 10 times as much as Biden has now promised, Reuters reported.

 

GEOPOLITICAL CONCERNS, CLIMATE ISSUES COMPETE

At a Brussels summit on energy prices this week, national representatives were split over how governments should react to soaring gas prices and possible energy shortages — and how much weight to give climate concerns, Reuters reported. 

Countries like Germany and the Netherlands argued that such consumer subsidies would only strengthen fossil fuel dependence, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, representatives of relatively poorer European countries pushed for governments to subsidize gas to help keep consumer prices low. 

U.S. proponents of liquefied natural gas are pushing for billions of dollars in new investment on new LNG compression facilities, The New York Times reported. 

Such an expansion means “locking in 20 or even 30 years of emissions from export infrastructure at a time when you really need to be reducing your overall emissions,” Clark Williams-Derry of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis told the Times. 
 
Warming signs: As the EU and U.S. representatives debated the future role of methane gas, the week brought further alarming — if localized — signs that the planet is warming.

The Arctic and Antarctic are experiencing unusually high temperatures, and an ice shelf “the size of Rome” calved off the Antarctic ice sheet this week, The Independent reported.  

Last words: “President Biden campaigned on bold and ambitious goals to tackle the climate crisis and environmental injustice,” Kelly Sheehan, director of energy campaigns for Sierra Club, said in a statement regarding the deal announced Friday.  

“Supporting the push to expand gas exports and lock in decades of fossil fuel production is directly in conflict with these goals.”  

 

Cities need to do more to confront deadly heat: study

State, county and municipal planning for the deadly effects of climate change have largely failed to tackle a silent, deadly and depressingly ordinary killer: heat. 

That’s according to Ladd Keith, a University of Arizona professor of landscape architecture who studies how cities adapt to climate change. 

Keith sat down with Equilibrium to explain how the largely ignored rise in temperatures has emerged as a leading climate threat — and why cities need to be more proactive in keeping their populations safe.  

A forgotten threat: When Keith began studying climate adaptation in the 2000s, “cities were mostly planning for sea level rise, or flooding,” he told Equilibrium.  

“Heat was literally the fingerprint of global warming. It’s the number one weather-related killer in the United States. It impacts mental health. But there were almost zero resources for local governments to plan for heat.” 

But heat doesn’t get the attention it deserves: Estimates have pointed to hundreds of excess deaths across the Pacific Northwest and Canada during last summer’s heat wave. 

But Keith noted that the likely high death toll hasn’t driven the kind of change in emergency response that follows other major events, like hurricanes.

There is one key difference: “Floods and wildfires affect physical property. And so whenever you have disasters affecting physical property and financial kind of interest from that, you’re gonna have much more response and much more interest in dealing with it,” Keith said. 

Deadly silos: Other dangers have specific governance boards, like local floodplain departments for inland flooding; forest managers for wildfires; and fire departments to reduce urban fire risk. 

But until last year’s heat waves, Keith said, most “cities didn’t take heat as a risk seriously.” 

That means an often-unfocused approach. Public health departments focus on the “band-aid” of using city and nonprofit buildings as “daytime” cooling centers, while urban planning departments focus on popular but insufficient projects like planting trees, Keith said. 

Cooling center workers are burning out: “It’s like, you’re expecting us to provide cooling for all of the population that doesn’t have safe housing,” Keith said. 

“But that amount is growing so quickly because people just can’t afford housing, and homelessness is increasing too.”

 

WHAT CITIES CAN DO

Short term, Keith said the only solution is more access to cooling — and particularly equal access to high-efficiency air conditioners and the energy supply to run them. 

The longer-term answer is the same, but in ways that relate more to the quality of urban housing and government, he said.

A doomsday distraction: Keith often assigns a harrowing opening chapter from “The Ministry for the Future,” Kim Stanley Robinson’s hard science fiction book. 

The scene depicts the nightmare scenario in which a municipal grid fails during a near-future heat wave on a day when heat and humidity are so lethally hot and humid that sweat can no longer cool the body. 

But it takes a lot less to kill a lot of people: “It’s much more exciting to plan for those kinds of extreme-risk, low-probability events than it is to just solve chronic heat issues,” Keith said. 

“In Arizona, we have a much higher death rate from just regular hot temperatures than from extreme heat periods. For a lot of the country, we’re seeing much more death and illness outside of what you would call a ‘heat wave,’ just because the temperatures are hot generally.” 

What most heat deaths looks like: “If you don’t have air conditioning and you’re sleeping in a house that’s 90 degrees — that’s hotter than your body is supposed to be at a time, it will push you over if you have preexisting illnesses or conditions.” 

What does it mean to think proactively? Any long-term solution requires a joint rethinking of how our cities are built, Keith said, with a focus on aiding poorer and marginalized communities in particular.

 

VIRTUAL EVENT INVITE

Driving Tomorrow: EVs & AVs — Tuesday, March 29 at 1:00 PM ET

Climate change, rapid advances in technology and the drive for innovation are leading to a big shift in the world of automobiles. As batteries, chips and electric charging stations become more vital, how can we design an infrastructure framework with sustainability in mind?

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio), EVgo CEO Cathy Zoi, Lion Electric’s Marc Bedard and more join The Hill to discuss. RSVP today.

 

Followup Friday

Hemp and cannabis sellers at odds over controlled substance

Beijing bets on battery swapping for long-haul electric vehicle trips

In India, renewables push means rural conflict

 

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

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