Equilibrium/Sustainability — Climate change could cause mass fish die-offs

·9 min read

Climate change is accelerating the occurrence of mass fish die-offs in U.S. lakes — posing a significant threat to global food supplies, a new study has found.

So-called “fish kills” — in which large numbers of fish die suddenly — could become six times more common by the end of the century, according to the study, published this week in Limnology and Oceanography.

After studying more than 500 past summer die-offs in Minnesota and Wisconsin, researchers from the University of Arkansas devised an air and water temperature-based model to forecast the frequency of future such kills.

Their models — which looked at a severe climate change scenario — predicted an approximately sixfold increase in fish kills by 2100 based on water temperature projections, while showing a 34-fold surge in mortality rates based on air temperature projections.

This means that if there were eight such incidents per year in the U.S. today, there would be 41 annually by the end of the century based on water temperature estimates, co-author Simon Tye said in a statement, describing projections as “more realistic” than the air-based estimates.

Climate change is a particular threat because it is likely to turn normal high summer temperatures into occasional dangerous spikes — raising the chance of a lethal heat event, Tye noted.

Since fish are in many cases both predators and prey, the death of large numbers of fish can rapidly destabilize aquatic ecosystems, leading to sudden crises for species dependent on eating fish — including humans.

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. We’re Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Send us tips and feedback. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

Colorado Democrats are calling on President Biden to protect public landscapes while the Environmental Protection Agency wants to list two types of “forever chemicals” as hazardous. We’ll also dive into new concerns around nuclear energy.

Western Dems to Biden: Shield public landscapes

Colorado Democrats urged President Biden in a letter on Friday to use his executive powers to preserve the historical legacy of key Rocky Mountain landscapes.

The politicians — Rep. Joe Neguse, Sen. Michael Bennet, Sen. John Hickenlooper and Gov. Jared Polis — asked the president to protect public spaces included in the Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy (CORE) Act, which has repeatedly passed in the House of Representatives but failed to move forward in the Senate.

Honoring history: Chief among their requests is the designation of Colorado’s Camp Hale and the Tenmile Range as the “Camp Hale – Continental Divide National Monument,” by means of the Antiquities Act.

  • The Camp Hale region was instrumental “in preparing the 10th Mountain Division for some of the most difficult moments of World War II,” according to the letter.

  • Many veterans returned to establish Colorado’s outdoor recreation economy.

Ending oil and gas leases: The politicians also urged the president to protect Colorado’s Thompson Divide — a 221,000-acre parcel of public land — through a Federal Lands Policy and Management Act mineral withdrawal.

  • Such a move would ban new oil and gas leasing, as well as mining, in the region.

  • Farmers, ranchers and community members have all come together in support of this conservation measure, the politicians noted.

“It is clear that Coloradans across the state support the conservation and preservation of these landscapes for future generations,” the letter stated.

Preserving lands for future Coloradans: In their letter to the president, the Colorado politicians called for new protections to the areas proposed for wilderness designation, mineral withdrawal and special management.

“By taking these steps, you will be making sure that even more of Colorado’s open spaces will be preserved for future generations,” they wrote to Biden.

Equilibrium has reached out to the White House for comment but did not receive a response before press time.

To read the full story, please click here.

Hazard designation proposed for two types of PFAS

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed to designate two types of “forever chemicals” as hazardous substances, our colleague Rachel Frazin reported for The Hill.

What are forever chemicals again? There are thousands of types of these cancer-linked compounds, also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

  • Forever chemicals are notorious for their ability to linger in the human body and the environment.

  • They’re present in a variety of products, including jet-fuel firefighting foam, nonstick pans and waterproof apparel.

What’s in the EPA proposal? The proposal focuses on the two most widely detected types of PFAS, known as PFOA and PFOS.

If finalized, the rule would declare these substances “hazardous” under the Superfund law.

Cleaning up communities: Such a designation could help hold polluters responsible and accelerate cleanup processes in affected communities, Frazin reported.

  • The designation would allow the EPA to require the military or private company that contaminated a given area to clean it up.

  • If the polluter refused to do so, the agency would have the power to recoup the costs.

Would the designation be effective? Betsy Southerland, a former official in the EPA’s Office of Water, told Frazin that the proposed designation would incentivize parties to quicken their cleanup efforts.

  • “The whole idea behind a hazardous substance is that it can pose imminent and substantial endangerment so you really have to move out on it,” Southerland said.

  • “And if you don’t, if you refuse to, EPA can do it and then sock you with a really big clean up bill,” she added.

Industry does not agree: The American Chemistry Council — a chemical industry trade group — argued that the designation could result in significant costs for businesses.

“A proposed [hazardous substance] designation would impose tremendous costs on these parties without defined cleanup standards, making it impossible for these entities to prepare for the impact of this rule,” the organization said.

To read the full story, please click here.

Amid Ukraine worries, Japan turns on nuke plants

Japan plans to restart its nuclear plants more than a decade after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, a move that comes amid fresh concerns over a recent near-meltdown at Europe’s largest nuclear facility.

The country had idled its nuclear program after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, and started “burning a lot of fossil fuels in order to fill the gap from the lack of nuclear power,” Sadamori said.

Japan’s announcement was “very good and encouraging news both in terms of energy supply security and climate change mitigation,” he said.

Trading with Russia: Across the Sea of Japan, South Korea — one of the world’s biggest proponents of nuclear power — is partnering with a Russian company on a $2.25 billion plan to build Egypt’s first nuclear plant, The Associated Press reported.

  • Egypt’s new plant will be built on the Mediterranean coast about 80 miles northwest of Cairo, according to the AP.

  • This was a large win for the country’s nuclear industry — but cut against American attempts to isolate Russia economically over its invasion of Ukraine.

While Western countries have sanctioned much of Russian energy production since its invasion, that doesn’t extend to nuclear energy.


HEIGHTENED CONCERNS

A recent near-meltdown on Thursday night at Europe’s largest nuclear facility is just one way that the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is leading to urgent questions around nuclear energy.

  • Kyiv is calling on the international community to pressure Russian troops to abandon the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant — Europe’s largest — after the fighting cut off electricity between the plant and the national grid for several hours, as Reuters reported Friday morning.

  • That meant a loss of power to cooling systems that keep the reactor from overheating  — with a meltdown narrowly prevented by the operation of diesel generators, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky said in his nightly address.

Zelensky blamed Russian shelling for the disconnection; a Russian official blamed Ukrainian artillery.

Back online: The Zaporizhzhia plant was reconnected to the Ukrainian electric grid on Friday, CNN reported.

But the plant — which generates 20 percent of Ukraine’s electricity, isn’t out of the woods.

With the combination of “shelling around the station and the city, smoke from fires, dust from the ash dump of a thermal power plant,” the “situation sometimes looks like the end of the world.”

Roulette wheel: “The Russians are spinning the chamber of the revolver, threatening to blow out the brains of the reactor all over Europe,” Yale national security expert Paul Bracken told Reuters.


States split over California gas car ban

Massachusetts on Friday announced it would ban the sale of new gasoline-powered cars by 2035 — making it the latest state to sign on to a goal set earlier this week by California and Washington state.

  • California’s plan would mandate more than two-thirds of new vehicle sales by 2030 be zero-emission.

  • But federal rules only call for 50 percent of new vehicle sales to be electric by that time.

“California had to go first according to federal law, and now states can piggyback on to the California rule, which Governor [Charlie] Baker (R) has pledged to do,” Larry Chretien of Green Energy Consumers Alliance told NBC Boston.

A conservative gauntlet: The move by liberal states to push state auto sellers toward zero-emission vehicles still has a major outstanding challenge — a lawsuit by 17 state attorneys general, as our colleague Zack Budryk reported in May.

Republican leaders in states like Missouri argue that California is in effect setting transport policy for their own states, the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

“We will continue to fight California’s efforts to impose their radical policies on the rest of the country,” a spokesperson for Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R) said this week.

Follow-up Friday

Pakistan floods have already killed almost a thousand, drought persists in the Horn of Africa and Beijing tells farmers to trade rice for sweet potatoes.

Floods in Pakistan have killed hundreds this summer

Greater Horn of Africa bracing for fifth failed rainy season

China tells farmers to switch crops amid drought

Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you next week.

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