Equilibrium/Sustainability — Farmer blames auto giant for bad crops

·10 min read

A farmer in Germany is blaming Volkswagen for the damage global warming is inflicting upon his crops, arguing the auto giant is at least partly responsible.

The farmer claims drier soil and heavier rainfall — which he attributes to climate change — are harming his fields, animals and commercial forests, The Associated Press reports. He alleges VW, the world’s second-biggest carmaker, is contributing to the damage.

“Farmers are already being hit harder and faster by climate change than expected,” the farmer, Ulf Allhoff-Cramer, told reporters. He is calling for VW to end production of combustion engine vehicles by 2030 and his case is supported by Greenpeace.

However, a German judge on Friday cast doubt that the farmer’s claims were valid — asking the plaintiff and his lawyers to provide details as to whether he has already suffered climate-related damages or if he is simply expecting them, the AP reported.

Volkswagen told the AP in a statement that it intends to decrease its emissions “as quickly as the business allows” but has set a 2050 deadline to achieve net-zero. The company called upon lawmakers to decide on climate change measures.

“Disputes in civil courts through lawsuits against individual companies singled out for this purpose, on the other hand, are not the place or the means to do justice to this responsible task,” VW said, adding it plans to push for the lawsuit to be dismissed.

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. Subscribe here.

Today we’ll take a look at the strange weather ahead for parts of the U.S., then we’ll travel across the Atlantic and dive into Russia’s move to cut off natural gas to Finland. Plus: New findings on how climate change may be impacting our sleep.

Weekend of weird weather ahead

Saharan dust cloud is expected to reach the Gulf Coast this weekend — coloring skies in an orange haze with sandy desert particles.

What’s a Saharan dust cloud? It’s “a huge plume” of dust that has made a 5,000-mile journey from Africa to Florida, as the Miami Herald describes it.

That cloud stems from the “Saharan Air Layer,” which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) defined as “a mass of very dry, dusty air that forms over the Sahara Desert during the late spring, summer and early fall.”

The Atlantic is no stranger to these clouds. Saharan Air Layer activity usually ramps up in mid-June and peaks from late June to mid-August, generating new outbreaks every three to five days, according to Jason Dunion, a University of Miami hurricane researcher working with NOAA.

During that peak period, Dunion said it is common for individual outbreaks to reach as far west as Florida, Central America or Texas.

Saharan dust could help prevent hurricanes: Because the dust is extremely dry and contains about 50 percent less moisture than the typical tropical atmosphere, it can “weaken a tropical cyclone,” the Miami Herald reported, citing the National Hurricane Center.

What about breathing? Those individuals with preexisting lung conditions should be the most vigilant, according to Panagis Galiatsatos, an assistant professor in the Division of Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The small particles carried in Saharan dust are “going to irritate the heck out of the lung” — and wreak even greater havoc on lungs that are already damaged, he told Equilibrium.

“Those patients are going to have a lot of pulmonary symptoms moving forward,” said Galiatsatos, who also serves as a volunteer medical spokesperson for the American Lung Association.

And those people without preexisting conditions? They could have some pulmonary symptoms as well, Galiatsatos warned.

“If you go out and you breathe in some noxious stimuli like heavy pollutants, etc., your lungs are going to cough,” Galiatsatos added. “That should signal to you, whatever you’re breathing, get me away from it.”

What can Gulf residents do? Galiatsatos recommends doing as much as possible to avoid the dust: If it becomes apparent that certain parts of the day are going to be worse, plan around that. He also suggests wearing an N95 or KN95 mask when possible exposure to the dust might occur.

Be prepared: For those individuals with preexisting lung conditions, he stressed the importance of talking to their doctors ahead of time, so they have “an action plan.”

“This is a predictable storm coming to us,” Galiatsatos said. “Patients should act appropriately, in preparation for a potential exacerbation.”


MEANWHILE, IN THE ROCKIES…

After a stretch of days in which temperatures climbed to the upper 80s this week, residents of the Rocky Mountain region are bracing for a weekend winter storm.

Snow in May? Yup. Colorodans are set to endure what a CNN meteorologist described as “weather whiplash.”

Snowfall could accumulate to as much as 2-3 feet in the higher elevation regions, with up to 8 inches in Denver, CNN reported, citing the National Weather Service.

The storm system is the result of a cold front that moved in and produced upslope winds, generating moisture, The Denver Post reported. Coinciding with this is a “roaring” jet stream that will enhance the storm, according to the newspaper.

There’s precedent for such a storm: The Post noted the storm could produce enough snow to surpass the 3.9 inches the Front Range received in May 2019.

“This is certainly going to be an impactful storm, even if there aren’t any records,” Zach Hiris, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Boulder, told CNN.

Some snow was already falling Friday morning — in terrains higher than 7,000 feet, the Post reported.

Rocky Mountain National Park is expected to see up to 30 inches of snow, while temperatures may fall into the 20s on Saturday and Sunday morning, causing a “region-wide deep freeze,” according to the Post.

Treacherous travel conditions: With or without records, Hiris told CNN that “it’s going to be quite the change over the next 24 hours.”

“So people traveling up into the higher elevations — especially Friday afternoon and evening — really need to be prepared for those changing conditions,” he said.

See a map and the latest forecasts here, from Nexstar affiliate KDVR in Denver.

Russia halts gas to Finland

Russia will be halting natural gas supplies to Finland on Saturday — part of an escalating energy fight between Russian and much of the European Union, our colleague Rachel Frazin reported for The Hill.

Retaliatory measures: Moscow’s move comes as Helsinki proceeds with its efforts to join NATO in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Finnish energy firm Gasum confirmed on Friday that it had been notified by Russia’s Gazprom that it would be turning off the tap the next day.

White House behind Finland: President Biden has expressed his support for Finland and Sweden’s efforts to join NATO and met with the leaders of both countries on Thursday.

Finding new solutions: Finnish Finance Minister Annika Saarikko announced on Friday that Finland had agreed with U.S.-based Excelerate Energy to a 10-year charter for a floating storage and regasification vessel, Reuters reported.

“The LNG terminal will make it possible for us to break free from Russian gas,” Saarikko said in a statement.

Saarikko expressed hopes that the vessel — which will likely be a shared venture with Estonia — will be operational in the fourth quarter of the year, according to Reuters.

A MOVE WITH PRECEDENT

Russia has already cut off gas to Poland and Bulgaria.

The decision to halt Finland’s supplies occurred as Russian demanded that Finland pay for its gas in rubles, while Finland has refused to do so, Frazin reported.

Oil ban in question: Earlier this month, the EU proposed an oil ban on imports from Russia, our colleague Zack Budryk reported.

But Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban is posing a big hurdle to such an embargo — which The Wall Street Journal described as the EU’s “biggest attempt so far to start the Kremlin’s war machine.”

Mixed messages: While Hungary’s largest energy company, the partly-government-owned MOL, has been tacitly boosting efforts to import oil from other nations, Orban has been relaying mixed messages to other European leaders, the Journal reported.

In threats to veto a potential embargo, he has said that such a move would amount “to an atomic bomb dropped on the Hungarian economy,” newspaper noted.

You may be sleeping less thanks to climate change

Citizens of a warming world may be losing considerable amounts of sleep due to climate change — with the worst effects occurring in developing countries, a new study has found.

If temperatures continue to surge, every person could lose an average of 50-58 hours of sleep each year by the end of the century, according to the study, published on Friday in One Earth.

The impacts will not be equal: Residents from lower-income countries, as well as older adults and females, are poised to struggle the most, the authors determined.

Anonymous sleep-tracking: To conduct their study, the researchers said they used anonymized global sleep data collected from sleep-tracking wristbands.

The data included 7 million nightly sleep records from more than 47,000 adults across 68 countries on all continents except Antarctica, according to the study.

Hot nights, poor sleep

  • On very warm nights — those with temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius, or 86 degrees Fahrenheit — the amount of sleep dropped an average of more than 14 minutes, the researchers observed.

  • They also found that the likelihood of getting less than seven hours of sleep also rises alongside temperature increases.

Heat regulation disturbed: “Our bodies are highly adapted to maintain a stable core body temperature, something that our lives depend on,” lead author Kelton Minor, of the University of Copenhagen, said in a statement.

  • Human bodies shed heat into the environment by dilating blood vessels and increasing blood flow to the hands and feet

  • But that heat transfer can’t occur as efficiently if the surrounding environment isn’t cooler than the bodies are

Developing countries hit hardest: While a lack of sufficient air conditioning may play a role, the researchers said they could not formulate a definitive conclusion on this factor, as they did not have access to relevant data on air conditioning.

Future research on the impact of rising temperatures on sleep, they noted, should focus on how sleep loss is unequal globally — with a particular look at the world’s most vulnerable populations who reside in the hottest environments.

To read the full story, please click here.

Follow-up Friday

National funds for regional carbon capture 

  • Boulder County, Colo., and Flagstaff, Ariz., are partnering on regional carbon removal technology, and on Thursday, the Biden administration announced that it would be investing $3.5 billion toward its own Regional Direct Air Capture Hubs program, Zack Budryk reported for The Hill.

Connecticut to require teaching climate change 

A right to clean air

  • In the U.K., a new bill has been introduced in parliament — named “Ella’s law,” after a child who died from asthma induced by air pollution — that would establish a right to clean air, The Guardian reported.

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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